Monday, August 3, 2009

Is God Impossible or Kind of Impossible?

A priori justification ain't what it used to be. There was a time when philosophers and mathematicians perhaps thought that when we engaged in deductive, a priori constructions of proofs for claims from propositions that we know to be true a priori, then those conclusions are as justified as anything can be. That is, when we reason deductively and without error from truths that we know without any appeal to the empirical world, then we acquire new knowledge of a broader world. Science and empirical reasoning are one thing, but conceptual analysis and a priori reasoning are another.

And traditionally, for obvious reasons, many people who believe in God have placed their hopes for justifying proof of the being on this sort of reasoning. God’s existence is not the sort of things that can be known or revealed through empirical experience, they have conceded. But we can infer God through reasoning as a perfect being who cannot fail to exist, or perhaps as the necessary first cause of it all where the only empirical premise is that there exists a universe (that needs to be explained by a first cause.)

These attempts to justify belief in God a priori have been on the wane. Plantinga’s version of the ontological argument in the 70s was probably the last, best hope for this camp. But in the end, even Plantinga conceded that he couldn’t prove the existence of God with his argument. What he had done, he said, was establish the rational acceptability of believing that God exists. Careful readers will not in God, Freedom, and Evil that what he really seemed to do was assert the rational acceptability of believing in God’s existence without much argument. And even if we grant the point, showing the rational acceptability of believing in God’s existence is a far cry from showing God’s existence. Many claims have been rationally acceptable, of course, while being far from the truth.

But what’s interesting here is that there is a large literature now devoted to showing that God is impossible on more or less conceptual, a priori grounds. There are problems individually with omniscience, omnipotence, moral perfection, omnipresence, and there are countless more problems that arise when you try to mix and match these properties and the others that have been traditionally attributed to God. See Ted Drange’s: http://www.philoonline.org/library/drange_1_2.htm For several good examples. Also see my atheism bibliography http://atheismblog.blogspot.com/2009/06/philosophical-atheism-bibliography.html for many more articles and books in these categories. And see my atheism encyclopedia entry for more details about the families of arguments in the literature:
http://atheismblog.blogspot.com/2009/06/encyclopedia-entry-atheism.html

There are some philosophers who continued to plug away at the a priori, natural theology project, but for the most part, it appears that they have given up that pursuit. Attention has shifted in recent decades to giving empirical evidence for God with fine tuning arguments or first cause arguments with appeal to modern astronomy and cosmology.

So what attitude should we take about the host of deductive disproofs for God’s existence. Have those arguments really settled it once and for all? It would see, and many of those authors have argued that if God is logically, conceptually impossible, then God doesn’t exist.

I think that if we are going to learn some lessons from history here about what a priori and deductive justifications are in general, we have to proceed a bit carefully.

Here’s the problem. Especially since the developments in math, geometry, logic, and epistemology in the 19th and 20th century, proof in the old, strong a priori sense of the word just isn’t what it used to be. There’s a huge amount of detailed back story here, but the issue with a priori justification comes down to this. It looks like there are no indefeasible, non-revisable grounds of truth upon which to base proving. It looks the best way for us to proceed is to acknowledge that even for the kinds of reasoning and rules of inference that we thought were most removed from any sort of empirical consideration or revision are defeasible and empirical. Logic itself, deductive reasoning, and conceptual analysis should be subject to revision depending on the state of our empirical observations, our broad theories about what is real, and the vast web of other propositions that we think describe the world. Humans are engaged in a large model making enterprise where they seek to get the ideas they have to line up as closely as possible to the observations they make, their predictions, and their needs. They should also be trying to construct this flotilla of world ideas so that it achieves the highest level of logical and probabilistic coherence possible, and it should have the highest degree of integration and fewest anomalies possible. We have learned from history that our description of what’s real in the world works best—makes the best predictions, explains the most data—when we more and better observations and we make it conform to those observations. As we improve the integrated justification between the claims in the system to reduce anomalies, and as we move towards a more and more comprehensive system, it is able to give us better descriptions of the world we are observing.

In that context then, what would it mean to give a priori disproof of God’s existence? We should take those disproofs as adding serious questions to the overall viability of the God hypothesis as an accurate description of ultimate reality. Let’s treat the God hypothesis as one story among many that attempts to describe what is real. And we should accept it, just like we should for any other account, to the extent that it fits with the rest of what we think we know about the world. It should not only fit with, but give us clear, robust predictions about the behavior and nature of objects in the physical world. It should not have implications that conflict directly with what we can observe to be true. At some point, if the God hypothesis is being presented as a description of reality, then there should be some sort of empirical implications. It should make a difference somehow in the way things are. That is, there must be some distinguishable way in which we would be able to tell the difference between the hypothesis being false and its being true. These real manifestations can be indirect and far removed from God himself—our observations of muons and gamma radiation are far from direct—but if we are going to take the hypothesis seriously as a description of real things (and that includes numerous claims about what is not real) then it’s got to make some real difference or other.

What disproofs for God’s existence do is contribute significantly to the long list of puzzles, paradoxes, and unanswered questions we have about the God hypothesis. If there is a God, then whatever he is, it’s going to have be something that helps make sense of all of these forceful arguments that God doesn’t make any sense. What disproofs of God do is make it harder and harder to sustain belief in a host of the versions of the God hypothesis that have been put before us. As the problems mount with the geocentric theory of the universe, or with a theory of the aether, or with the elan vital theory of life, their descriptions of reality show more and more strain until they collapse under the weight of observation, theory, and other evidence and we jettison them. We’ve got ample grounds for rejecting lots and lots of the versions of the God hypothesis that people have believed. The Earth and all plant and animal life were not created in their present form 6,000-10,000 years ago. God can’t have the power to do logically impossible acts because that creates untenable paradoxes.

Given the various problems with different God hypotheses that have been articulated in the deductive atheology literature and elsewhere, the questions for any person who wants to be reasonable and who cares about the evidence are, 1) what sorts of viable God hypotheses are left? 2) how many ad hoc patch jobs does a thoughtful person have to do on their idea of God to get something they can sign on for? 3) what are the real grounds that I have that are leading me to think that this new patched up version of God is the one that I thought existed all along? or what is the connection between this God and the one that I used to believe in? (You could similarly patch up your idea of Santa after your parents tell you that they put the presents under the tree.) 4) Is the patched up version of God that I am left with really worthy of the name “God,” and worth all of this fuss? And finally, I’ve got to ask about your motivations. If you find yourself answering objections to God hypotheses from the skeptic with otherwise unmotivated or arbitrary special provisions (“Well, it’s virtuous for humans to show compassion for natural disaster victims, but God’s virtue requires that he allow the suffering.”), what’s really motivating you? Is it that if you were to take a completely impartial look at the evidence and the situation, the reasonableness of this God hypothesis would be obvious? It’s not to the rest of us.

Some of the theistically inclined may protest here and insist that empirical requirements that are being imposed here are the ones that science and naturalism employ, but it is by no means obvious that their success in that realm insures that they must be the global criterion for all truth or all knowledge. They will acknowledge that humanity has acquired a great deal of knowledge by means of this route, but they balk at the imposition of the criteria as the only arbiter of what is known or real. Science is fine for what it does, but we should understand its proper domain. Invariably, this sort of criticism of empiricism and naturalism is followed by the refrain: There are other routes to knowledge.

Ok fine, let’s follow this out. First, a lot more work needs to be done here before someone can claim that there are other routes to knowledge. “Science’s success doesn’t prove it’s totality.” Ok, but neither does the domain point here imply that there is another non-empirical realm or any non-empirical, non-natural means of acquiring knowledge of it. The critics of naturalism here can’t simply announce that THERE ARE OTHER ROUTES TO KNOWLEDGE and take it to be justified to believe that claim simply by its assertion. What are the grounds upon which this claim is built? Is it reasonable to believe it? Is it justified? Do we have an abundance of other cases where some other ultimately non-natural method has succeeded that we can point to for an analog? Math? Philosophy? But that’s the problem—no one thinks that those sort of proofs for God work, not even God’s most enthusiastic believers in those fields. At most, what the critic might be entitled to say (and I’d want to see some careful reasoning up to this point) is that IT IS POSSIBLE that there are other routes to knowledge. And under the right circumstances with the rights sorts of justifications and conditions stipulated, I might concur. But it is possible that monkeys will fly out of my butt and monkeys WILL fly out of my butt are two entirely different matters, requiring very different sorts of justification. (I have found that a persistence confusion between something’s being possible and it’s being reasonable to believe is one of the most serious and common mistakes in philosophical theology.)

Suppose that we grant that it is possible that there are other routes to knowledge. Then what? We need to know exactly what that route is first. Then we need to have some sort of criteria by which to judge whether it is actually a route to knowledge of reality or whether it’s just more metaphysical bullshit. If you’re going to defend this route to God, be forewarned: you are casting yourself in with every kook, new ager, spiritualist, medium, psychic, palm reader, con artist, witch doctor, witch, Wiccan, and hippy that has ever walked the earth and who thought they had tapped into some other ultimate reality. And you’ve got to separate yourself from the pack. You need to give some plausible, non-ad hoc account of how it is that your special, magical, transcendent method for allegedly knowing the truth works and theirs doesn’t. If there’s no error checking, or no way to separate the true from the false, then the sailboats are all just adrift. And there are too many examples of human judgment being unfettered from the empirical world and taking off for the jungles of crazy land for us to just take your word for it. Besides, as I suggested before, we’re beginning to question your motives. It’s starting to look like no matter what sort of question, paradox, or objection comes up, you’re going to engineer a way to salvage the God idea. It’s starting to look like the God belief in your head is calling all the shots and your reason, your passions, and all of your arguments have been enslaved to it. The question that I frequently come back to here is, just hypothetically, what WOULD you acknowledge as reasonable grounds for rejecting the God idea? And if the answer is “nothing,” then you’ve already left on the bus to crazy land and the rest of us are giving up hope being able bring you back with reason.

49 comments:

Richard said...

You hit it out of the park with this one. Well done.

akakiwibear said...

St Augustine proposed that there were only two arguments for atheism that presented a challenge to theists – the problem of evil and that everything could be explained without a need for God.

I congratulate you on presenting a refreshing take on the latter with It [the God hypothesis] should make a difference somehow in the way things are. That is, there must be some distinguishable way in which we would be able to tell the difference between the hypothesis being false and its being true.

But, if the ‘God’ or ‘No God’ states are indistinguishable does that prove there is no God? … or does it simply prove that we have not recognised the distinction between the two states … or that we do not have the ability to compare. A problem your argument faces is that whichever state exists we have no certain knowledge of the other state i.e. what it would be like in the other state. We can’t get round this problem for the staes are of course mutually exclusive.

Assume for the sake of argument a starting position that there is no God. Observe the world around us and ask how would it be different if there were a God? Certainly we can attribute theoretical qualities to God that would make it different – perhaps even choose some that suit our purpose - but do we have any evidence that those are the appropriate qualities (or effects) to be looking for? If there is indeed no God then there will be no conclusive qualities that we should be looking for.

OK now turn it around – start off with the assumption there is a God. The same problem exists. We have no experience of a world without a God so we cannot conclusively establish the characteristics of such a world to seek confirmation of our view.

Have you really progressed beyond St Augustine (354-430 AD) or have you done no more (and by “no more” I don’t mean to diminish your work) than very cleverly restate his position?

Sala kahle - peace

Russ said...

Matt,
Is something missing here?

Careful readers will not in God, Freedom, and Evil that what he really seemed to do was assert the rational acceptability of believing in God’s existence without much argument.

Reginald Selkirk said...

Careful readers will not in God, Freedom, and Evil...

I caught that too, Russ. Replace "not" with "note."

Reginald Selkirk said...

akakiwibear: Assume for the sake of argument a starting position that there is no God. Observe the world around us and ask how would it be different if there were a God? Certainly we can attribute theoretical qualities to God that would make it different – perhaps even choose some that suit our purpose - but do we have any evidence that those are the appropriate qualities (or effects) to be looking for?

First, you set your definitions. Then you investigate whether something exists which fills your definition. If you say "God exists, but I refuse to define it first," then you might as well substitute any other term for "God," such as "uni."

I had such a frustrating conversation with an agnostic once. He refused to define God, but insisted there could be things out there in the vast universe which we did not yet know about. So I started asking, "Could this pepper shaker on the table between us be God?" No, he said. And yet, he has no basis to so claim. If one has not defined God-ness, then how can one say that X could not be God? That is not rational uncertainty, that is intellectual cowardice.

Also, if some sort of God actually exists, but does not meet certain qualifications (e.g. goodness), then this is not a God whom I would deign to worship.

akakiwibear said...

Reg, of course we must first set our definitions in place, but you miss the point.

Since we have no experience of an existence different from ours in regard to there being or not being a God we have no reference point from which to conclude that there is or is not evidence of God … and the thrust of your OP is that we should be able to see the difference God makes – OK but without any alternative frame of reference your argument is puffery – see the difference from what?

… which leads to the aspect of setting the definitions, again with no alternative reference they must be arbitrary

... what we would like God to be, how we would have created God, certainly definitions abound that seem to serve as little more than fodder for an atheist straw man.

Sala kahle - peace

Reginald Selkirk said...

Since we have no experience of an existence different from ours in regard to there being or not being a God we have no reference point from which to conclude that there is or is not evidence of God


Since we have never lived in a world without Santa Claus (so I claim), we have no reference point from which to conclude that there is or is not evidence of Santa Claus...

Reginald Selkirk said...

… which leads to the aspect of setting the definitions, again with no alternative reference they must be arbitrary


Again: no. You set the definition first, then you decide if a candidate fits. Repeating your bad argument doesn't help anything.

Note that the definition does not need to be a complete description down to miniscule detail, it is more like a qualifying standard. We could, for example, decide if a captured animal was a felid, without knowing which species of cat, either existing or new, it belonged to. Likewise, when you define "God-ness," you set a general standard. Failing to set such a standard, yet claiming success, is not intellectually respectable.

akakiwibear said...

Your Santa analogy does not merit reply!

My point revolves around us not having certainty regarding the nature of God. So those who set a definition of God can and will do so for their own purposes.

In your OP you argue that the existence of God is contingent on being able to distinguish between a God and a no-God world. You have therefore defined God as making a difference that you can recognise … I argue that not to be a valid criteria.

Even if I allow you that definition for which you present no supporting argument - should I allow your baseless assertion that you could know the difference?

Perhaps if you described a world without God and presented conclusive argument to support your position I might have some sympathy for your position.

I suspect if asked to, you would describe the world as it is today - because that suits your assertion that there is no God - but you have less basis for that position than exists for one which says the world is exactly as it should be if God exists.

My point remains that we have no way of knowing as we have no alternative frame of reference.

You argue that we do have the tri-omni model of God as setting an expectation of how the world could be – perhaps the PoE argument restated. But for your argument to work you have selected a particular minority interpretation/version of God ... and so you fell the straw man.

Now you dismiss any who present an alternative concept of God with 2) how many ad hoc patch jobs does a thoughtful person have to do on their idea of God to get something they can sign on for? … interesting that as a scholar you dismiss the concept of a developing theology as patching, while you don’t do the same for other disciplines or even atheism.

You say (and I agree) Let’s treat the God hypothesis as one story among many that attempts to describe what is real. And we should accept it, just like we should for any other account, to the extent that it fits with the rest of what we think we know about the world. Here we both have to decide what evidence we accept or reject in regard to the quality of fit … and if either of us had a conclusive position we would not be having this discussion – agnostics do have the intellectual high ground, but I suspect we will choose to remain theist and atheist because we have that choice – oops that is part of the definition of God that I use.

Sala kahle – peace

PS I must apologise in advance for not being able to continue this debate as I will be away for a few days – but I thank you for your hospitality and if welcome, would like to return.

M. Tully said...

I have to agree with Richard, Home run. The money quote, "Then we need to have some sort of criteria by which to judge whether it is actually a route to knowledge of reality or whether it’s just more metaphysical bullshit."

I'll never understand why arguments from "uterly failed epistomologies" have ever been seriously considered (that's even taking into account the human propensity for wishful thinking).

You know the sentiments contained in Matt's post are not all that original, they have been alluded to by many authors over the years, but the way it is stated here is without a doubt the clearest most concise statement of those sentiments I have ever seen. It should be in the opening chapter of any book making the case for naturalism. The natualists will always have the evidence on their side, its up to the other person to argue for accepting a hypothesis DESPITE the evidence.

M. Tully said...

Reginald,

Excuse me for butting in on the conversation (you know I can't help myself sometimes). But, I would like to personally (just me, not speaking for anyone else) like to concede a point to kiwi.

When kiwi wrote, "In your OP you argue that the existence of God is contingent on being able to distinguish between a God and a no-God world. You have therefore defined God as making a difference that you can recognise … I argue that not to be a valid criteria."

Kiwi, I think you make a valid point. If you want to propose a deity that in no way has any detectable interaction with the natural universe, I won't argue against it.

Instead I'll just ask, "Why should anyone on the planet care if it exists or doesn't?"

akakiwibear said...

sorry to disappoint, but I have not left yet …

Instead I'll just ask, "Why should anyone on the planet care if [a deity that in no way has any detectable interaction with the natural universe] exists or doesn't?" excellent point.

Three responses
1) What I said was You have therefore defined God as making a difference that you can recognise … this is a highly subjective test and on those grounds I dismissed Matt’s thesis.

2) How can we assert with any real conviction that we can/can’t see the impact God has when we have no alternate frame of reference – the fundamentalist position that everything we see is evidence of God’s existence is as in/valid as the atheist counterpoint.

3) I could argue however that there the evidence of the difference God has made and that each item on its own is inconclusive, yet all taken together are persuasive. Note “persuasive” not “conclusive”. So we are left having to make a choice – acknowledge the evidence = theist or deny it = atheist … we can argue (the rational basis for either choice, but we cannot deny that we have made a leap of faith, one way or the other!

sala kahle

M. Tully said...

“Three responses”

Three replies:

“you can recognise “

To me, make the argument to everyone. I take “you” to mean any rational human being. I have read Reginald’s comments on this blog and others and have never seen any reason to believe him to be an irrational human being. Reginald makes a rational argument that others can accept. If it wasn’t clear, let me be straight forward, “I” am making the same argument. Based on the success of empirical rationality, it is perfectly rational to ask for evidence of an assertion. Lacking that evidence it is, based on the success of empirical rationality, irrational to believe something to be a part of reality.


“How can we assert with any real conviction that we can/can’t see the impact God has when we have no alternate frame of reference …“

Exactly the point. We in the reality based community want evidence for an assertion. If you wish to make an argument DESPITE the evidence, please inform the audience of why you feel that ignoring evidence (or the lack there of) would be a successful method of acquiring knowledge of reality.

“I could argue however that there the evidence of the difference God has made and that each item on its own is inconclusive, yet all taken together are persuasive.”

Well then, please make that argument (with adherence to the above about either providing evidence for your position or establishing why the requirement for evidence should be ignored).

OK, a fourth response:

“Note “persuasive” not “conclusive”.

A naturalist would agree. Only a naturalist would consider it to be a question of highest probability. Yes, everything could (in theory) be falsified, but if you want to falsify gravity, you had better pack a lunch.

So Kiwi, does the god of your hypothesis interact with the natural world? Does he or she intervene in the events of this planet? If you say yes, define the epistemology you use to give that answer and convince a rational person that they should accept both the epistemology and the conclusion. If you say no, then again I’ll ask, “Why should anyone on the planet care.

Reginald Selkirk said...

Your Santa analogy does not merit reply!

Your argument which provoked the Santa analogy then stands unsupported, and is shown to be very, very silly.

Reginald Selkirk said...

But for your argument to work you have selected a particular minority interpretation/version of God ... and so you fell the straw man.

akawikibear refuses to define God, then gets all huffy when someone else steps in to do the job, using a rather standard variation.

2) How can we assert with any real conviction that we can/can’t see the impact God has when we have no alternate frame of reference – the fundamentalist position that everything we see is evidence of God’s existence is as in/valid as the atheist counterpoint.

It is not intellectually respectable to repeat an argument which has been refuted. You refused to respond to the Santa analogy, so your argument fails. We have never lived in a world without Santa Claus (or so I claim), so how could we know what it would be like?

Both philosophical logic and Naturalistic science have been chipping away at the notion that God is the only explanation for what we see in the world around us. Maybe you haven't noticed.

Anonymous said...

… which leads to the aspect of setting the definitions, again with no alternative reference they must be arbitrary

All definitions are arbitrary. The idea is that definitions must conform to observation and any other definitions you consider. I don't see God, so I have to define him. But since I don't see him my definition is useless because I have to verify it with what I see. Since I don't see him and I can't verify my definition of God there must not be one. If there is, I've got no reason to believe; it's irrational to believe. You said, "If there is indeed no God then there will be no conclusive qualities that we should be looking for," and I agree.

Anonymous said...

I should clarify: although definitions are arbitrary, some are better than others, and some are nonsense. Any definition of God will be nonsense since there is no way to check and see if it's true and the properties of God are impossible anyway.

To the lack of reference point idea you keep bringing up I would say that I've never been in an it's-five-minutes-from-now-and-my-soyburger-is-ready-state, but I can tell you with certainty that when those five minutes are up, Allah willing or not, I will be eating my soyburger. And I can say stuff about it despite the fact I've never had this kind of soyburger before. I've lived my whole life in a world without hickory-smoked soy, but I know the properties of hickory smoke flavor, and soy flavor, and bread flavor, and soy cheese flavor, and I can safely say that I will be tasting them in five minutes despite having never lived in a world where all of them are together at last in my mouth. I have no clue what you are trying to say.

Anonymous said...

If it doesn't taste like hickory then I can safely say I must have grabbed the original flavor on accident and that the hickory flavor, in my taste-world, doesn't exist. We know what power is, and good, and knowledge, and we know what its like to have somewhat good, knowledgeable, and powerful people around, so we can infer what the world would be like to have God around.

rspeir said...

I am a creationist. Actually, God should not really be that far from your senses. Afterall, we make the claim that He created you and thus, your senses as well. Maybe He is not really that hard to prove. Have you tried approaching Him on His grounds? I am being dead serious here. All of us have been around and around on this issue. We won't give in and you won't give in. Nobody is moving outside of their circle. So what is left to do with you? Are you a serious investigator of truth or just another guilt-ridden product of creation who can't leave the issue alone? Why do you care at all? Depending on how you honestly answer that question, you can then move on to my challenge above. Have you tried approaching Him on His grounds? There is a methodology to this. He must be approached properly. Afterall, He does hide Himself on purpose and requires that one seek Him out. There are steps to this thing. Proper steps. If you make a misstep, like approaching Him in pride, for instance, He is very clear that He will avoid you. Are we going to go on and on around in circles with this issue, or will one or you (some of you?) try actually approaching Him on His terms? What will you discover? Are you afraid that He might meet you at your senses - the ones He created? What if you discovered that after you approached Him (in humility as He requires), you noticed that He was able to 'touch you' very deeply in a secret, spiritual place in your make-up that you did not know existed? What if a deep sense of anguish and feeling of guilt came over you that you were not expecting? What if an awful dread of who He 'is' and who you are 'not' overwhelmed you and you, by your senses, began to weep? What would do with that? What if you actually met this God at a contact point somewhere inside you and you emerged from the meeting changed? Now you are in trouble because now you have to try and explain to your friends and family what happened (that is, if you even last beyond your own intellectual homicide of the event). If several of you do what I am proposing, you should get together and compare notes. One will have approached Him correctly and actually found Him. Another will have done so improperly and rant and rave (as is your style) about how foolish the whole venture was. Still another will swear before creation that he approached this God properly, yet discovered nothing of value. Of course, most of you will just post more garbage and never have tried in the first place. People, my point is 'nothing is left to say in this debate' - it's all been said a hundred times over. Where do we go from here? We creationists don't have the corner market on this God. Somebody challenged us one day to seek Him out. We did. And we found Him. We have full rights to try the same.

rspeir said...

I said, we have full rights to try the same. I meant, YOU have full rights to try the same.
Just breezing by your forum. Hope all goes well.

Bayesian Bouffant, FCD said...

Have you tried approaching Him on His grounds?


Mount Olympus?

Bayesian Bouffant, FCD said...

If you make a misstep, like approaching Him in pride, for instance, He is very clear that He will avoid you...

Oh yes, you are so bleeping humble, and the Creator of the entire universe is your personal buddy who is watching over everything you do.

Anonymous said...

Mt. Olympus... lol.

Chet Twarog said...

If there was a god, there wouldn't be much discussion, would there?
Gods/goddesses are created by humans. There isn't just ONE god. And, why "HE"? How does one know the sex of a god? And what does a male god do with his penis? Masturbate?
We are all created by our biological parents!

ydgmdlu said...

rspeir: You make a big deal about how God hides himself on purpose and avoids those who don't take the "right steps" to find him. However, when you read the Bible, you find that God can't help but show himself to others. He's not very hidden at all! In fact, he even incarnated himself as a human called "Jesus" and traveled far and wide to preach the Gospel, to ordinary people, hardly demonstrating the "hiddenness" of God. The "hiddenness" of God is merely a extra-Biblical invention by Christians to explain away an obvious and (in many non-believers' eyes) insurmountable problem with the belief system.

Anonymous said...

"But what’s interesting here is that there is a large literature now devoted to showing that God is impossible on more or less conceptual, a priori grounds. There are problems individually with omniscience, omnipotence, moral perfection, omnipresence, and there are countless more problems that arise when you try to mix and match these properties and the others that have been traditionally attributed to God. See Ted Drange’s: "

These so called arguments are intellectually dishonest professor. It doesnt take much to show a contradiction with properties when you dont have a context. Try making God a human for a day ( like jesus) and none of the attributes contradict.

For example God could have come down via his angel and have been the judge in the lesser crimes courtroom showing mercy yet in the afternoon sat as a judge on the felony court being harsh (well call this just since mercy seems to denote lax). Thus God can both be merciful and just...you just need a context like earlier and later, here and then there, incident X then Y....

Otherwise your just shooting in the dark by claming God is impossible because two attributes are inconsistent.

Matt Mccormick cannot be a professor because he was once a student.. this is the kind of reasoning that is going on and it presumes God can do the impossibile to begin with.

Think for example the analogy between man and his organs or shall we say his cells. Is the man culpable for his internal parts actions? We dont so red blood cell X failed me and thus the man of that cell is a failure. How then can you atheist say this about God when he minute components fail?

Matt McCormick said...

I don't think you're in a position to accuse these arguments of being "intellectually dishonest", anonymous, until you've actually read them and thought about them a bit. Your attack on these paper thin representations has little to do with the 150 or so references in the bibliography I posted a few weeks back, for instance.

MM

Anonymous said...

Professor,

I cannot see how you would know whether I have thought about the aformentioed arguments or not. Perhaps you assumed this? That I have no formal philosophy training? I am quite familiar with the attribute arguments against God. They are very simplistic and borderline ridicule, leaving out any context or shall we say scope to honestly qualify the inconsistency in question.

So do you really think it is logically impossible that God can be both a merciful and just judge? Dont you think we could conjure up countless defeaters for these attribute arguments against God? Yes, in logical possibly worlds angels can come down and represent God's will - you cannot deny the antecedent there...

M. Tully said...

"For example God could have come down via his angel and have been the judge in the lesser crimes courtroom showing mercy yet in the afternoon sat as a judge on the felony court being harsh"

Seems to me - and full disclosure, I'm not in anyway philosophically inclined - that the above example shows consistent justice, but no mercy (punishments fitting the crimes).

But the real question isn't, as I understand it, can some being be just in one instant and merciful in another. Any human can do that. But, rather can any being be simultaneously ALL just and at the same time ALL merciful? I think the courtroom analogy fails miserably at demonstrating this.

M. Tully said...

"Think for example the analogy between man and his organs or shall we say his cells."

I'll go with organs. What about a man's brain? Can a man be culpable for actions his brain causes? As a naturalist, I say absolutely.

Anyone care to absolve mankind for all actions caused by their brains?

M. Tully said...

"Dont you think we could conjure up countless defeaters for these attribute arguments against God?"

Well, if what I have seen here is indicative of the class, I would really suggest you guys go back to the drawing room and start over (although I did appreciate the use of the word "conjure").

Anonymous said...

re: tully

comment 1

You cannot apply nor consider the all v all context of an attribute - it isn't within our scope. we can only judge that an attribute is applied to a certain case. Why?Becasue we are cognitively limted.

Essentially tully if a human can be deemed a good person and have conducted deviating attributes, whether throughout his life or even in a day, then why is this so difficult for God? Why is he inconsistent and john doe not?

I dont know its kind of hard to articulate what I am saying but it shouldnt be hard to plug in scenerios where God is consistent despite conducting different attributes given a context. If this is even possible then every attribute argument for the impossibility of God fails.

Anonymous said...

A rebuttal to why weighing the ALL just verses ALL merciful in regards to God is itself an impossible task.

If we consider that God cannot be ALL just and ALL merciful at the same time then we also must deny that both attributes can coexits or that one or the other is nonexistant).

Why?

Because to consider the If-then operation of such a dauntful task we must assign the essence of God as the ALL to even consider such. In other words, we must assign God an attribute of ALL things, regardless if you believe in God or his powers.

So an argument against an ALL God is also an argument against there being both the attribute of mercy and just - since God as the all must encompass such things.

Does anybody really believe that mercy or justice does not exists?

Profesor, what is your take on this?

M. Tully said...

"Essentially tully if a human can be deemed a good person and have conducted deviating attributes, whether throughout his life or even in a day, then why is this so difficult for God?"

A human, an all natural, evolved in the Pleistocene human, can certainly be both social and selfish in different circumstances. Heck, he or she could be inconsistent in the same circumstances at different times. Our inconsistencies are a part of our humanity, our less than perfect humanity. As for an omnigod, well the common definitions of that entity call for perfection. It is an entity above, beyond and deserving the worship of humanity. That entity has never been demonstrated. Now if you want to define god as an entity with the same human imperfection of inconsistency as you or I, you're welcome to (of course there are still other omni-properties that don't add up that you're going to eventually have to deal with). But, to quote (purportedly) Epicurius, "Then why call him god?"

M. Tully said...

"A rebuttal to why weighing the ALL just verses ALL merciful in regards to God is itself an impossible task."

I think you're catching on. That thing you're probably feeling is called cognitive dissonance. It's not a bad thing. Once you understand why it arises, it leads to some pretty incredible stuff.

M. Tully said...

"If we consider that God cannot be ALL just and ALL merciful at the same time then we also must deny that both attributes can coexits or that one or the other is nonexistant"

Consider for a moment black, white and gray.

Anonymous said...

tully you completely missed the boat. Maybe your lack of logic is due to this but you cannot attribute God the property of "All things" and then still believe in black and white - since black and white, mercy and justice are a part of the all

My arg was in a reductio form and this somehow confused you into thinking I agree with the attribute arg...

But I am resating the arg to show how unreasonable it is since it must deny opposites, which are needed to define each other...

Anonymous said...

attacking God's imperfection doesnt get you anywhere tully since it is a red herring to the arg at hand

Of course a response to the red herring you made is seen in Liebeniz "the best of all worlds" notion...but this is a digress and another topic

M. Tully said...

"tully you completely missed the boat..."

Anon, rereading the comments, I must agree with you. You were not arguing that a deity could violate those things that we in humanity have found to be absolutely mutually exclusive (although, by definition, that makes the deity less than omnipotent). My black-white argument is, most certainly, a failure.

However, going back to the original post, I can conceive of a universe where absolute justice and absolute mercy were compatible. It is a universe where every sentient being's greatest desire was for perfectly consistent justice. Or, alternately, every sentient being's greatest desire is for perfectly magnanimous forgiveness.

I seem to inhabit a world where neither one of those two conditions exist. Yet, either one of those two worlds could have been created.

M. Tully said...

"Of course a response to the red herring you made is seen in Liebeniz 'the best of all worlds' notion... "

Well, the "best of all worlds" argument is one that I would enjoy having, however, it is well beyond the scope of the original post.

Maybe Matt will make a post concerning that philosophical position.

GeorgeRic said...

Christianity is the reasonable choice.

Seekers of Truth: Using the logic of science, we check phenomena to see if they are explained by theory. If many phenomena can be explained, we then hold that theory to be true.

Edwin Abbott, writing his book 'Flatland' to humorously explain contiguous dimensional worlds, shows us a logical explanation for worlds superior to ours. 'Techie Worlds' uses the Flatland Concept to examine far-out Christian teachings such as Trinity, soul, Resurrection, Judgment, etc. While quite ridiculous from a 'material world only' view, these teachings make rational good sense in the Flatland context.

Mankind has long been plagued with reports of the spirit world: miracles, ghosts, possession, pagan gods, witchcraft, occult, devil worship, black masses. Materialists classify all such as superstition and overactive imaginings. Christians shy from such, holding them unnatural as Jesus taught. But the materialist position involves an act of faith that 'the material world is all that there is'. Their act of faith cannot be proved. Certainly, science cannot possibly experiment with the spirit world. Techie Worlds' (available from www.amazon.com) shows the belief in higher worlds, also an act of faith, is logical and considered, and shows these strange Christian concepts to be logically possible.

Pascal's Wager points out that the Christian act of faith urges us to a better life in this world and can result in great rewards in the next. The unbelieving view permits selfish misanthropic behavior now and denies all future eternal rewards. Clearly, rational self-interest makes belief in a logical, rational, rewarding Christianity to be the wise and intelligent choice.

GeorgeRic

Leroytherabit said...

Three words. Electromagnetism.

Miss E. Rawr said...
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Miss E. Rawr said...

In light of what you've just said, What do you know and how do you know it?

Asno Mudo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Asno Mudo said...

If God transcends this universe then we have problems. Sure, the Biblical God may well be fictitious ... but there is nothing to suggest, apart from a sceptical urge to disbelieve, that we aren't stuck inside a 'simulation'.

On one reading of the Bible it really does make sense to accept that 'God' exists and that the nature of his existence is external to our universe ... that 'our' universe is in fact nothing more than a advanced game of 'minecraft'.

The conflict comes in trying to square the 'originator' with the lists of outrageous demands and actions as seen in the Bible ... that's fine though because it's perfectly normal to expect self interest etc to distort, embellish or even create the work that we know as the Bible. The problem is not the Bible, but the central idea that a creator is responsible for this universe.

Interestingly using this idea we can escape the problem of evil. Sure you and I may not like to think of ourselves merely as bits of information and we'd like to think that pain and suffering are 'real'. Though how many people refuse to play fps computer games on the basis that they don't want to hurt pixels.

Which of course leads to another issue.

In the none too distant future computers will undoubtedly manage at least a minimal form of self awareness - at least on the grounds that certain humans manage it. Considering the range of what society considers human, I've always found the Turing test to be somewhat bizarre as a significant number of real people would fail.

So what will be the situation when we can create advanced simulations filled with AI's?

Will we have to take care not to allow 'evil' to befall them, or will we simply accept that it's part of the whole process?

Bob H said...

Sorry Matt, Just testing.
This code works on Blogger: Atheism proving the negative:
This is BOLD
This is ITALICS
Yahoo

brmckay said...

How could any one actually tell what the original post is saying?

Jumping to the last paragraph helped a bit. There, the author makes it clear that he thinks anyone thinking in terms of "God" is a fool.

I, however do not accept that definition. It lacks merit, by my standards.

For me, conceiving of "God" as the emergent characteristic arising from infinite potential, works pretty good. Might even be "A priori" Though, I had to look the term up and I'm sure this guy will quibble with it.

Starchild646 said...

The only true proof for the existence of God can be made by pointing an extended middle finger at the atheist. There can be no naturalistic explanation of what that gesture means (or any gesture for that matter).