Morriston on the evil god hypothesis

Posted on 10/29/11 69 Comments

Earlier this week Walter forwarded the link to a 2004 article by Wes Morriston which nicely summarizes the problem with Stephen Law’s evil god argument. Before we get to that however, let’s recap the argument. 

Law argued against the existence of God (or what we can call “good god”) by pointing out that the believer in a maximally evil god could reconcile his belief with the amount of goodness in the world by reversing all the standard strategies employed by the good god theodicist to explain the amount of evil in the world. I agree that the proponent of an evil god can indeed to this. Where the disagreement enters is with what Law thinks flows from this fact. Law then goes on to ask why we reject the existence of an evil god. He claims that we do so because the amount of good cannot plausibly be reconciled with an evil god. If we accept this then we should likewise agree that the amount of evil cannot plausibly be reconciled with a good god.

But is that really what follows from the fact that evil god theodicies are possible? I don’t think so and neither does Wes Morriston apparently. He summarizes his article as follows:

“on the ground marked out by skeptical theists, it seems that we cannot justify any confident judgment about God’s moral character by appealing to the mixture of good and evil that we find in the world. Demonists cannot prove their case by appealing to evil. Theists cannot prove theirs by appealing to goodness. And neither camp can prove that its opponent is mistaken by appealing to the mixture. The issue simply cannot be settled on straightforward empirical grounds.” (Morriston, “The Evidential Argument from Goodness,” Southern Journal of Philosophy, 42 (2004), 99.)

And that was the point I made last week in “Where Stephen Law goes wrong with his evil god argument.” In the illustration I pointed out that the evidence available at a death scene may underdetermine whether the death was murder or not. But this doesn’t mean people cannot draw conclusions about whether the death was a murder or not. It just means that they cannot do so limited only to the evidence of the crime scene. Likewise, the mixture of evil/good in the world may be consistent with both an evil god and a good god. But that simply means that this too underdetermines the facts. You cannot arrive at a belief about whether either deity exists based solely on a survey of that evidence.

And that means that the existence of evil god theodicies is of no concern to the Christian theist. It simply means that both Christian theists and evil god devotees can develop theodicies to remove potential defeaters to their respective belief systems.

Share
  • The Atheist Missionary

    I’m not going to let you away so easily. If the evil-god challenge fails to convince you of the likely non-existence of god, that’s fine. But what interests me is what you rely on to arrive at the belief that your god is benevolent. A post which squarely answers that question would definitely be worth a Kiva donation.

    • Walter

      I’m sure the ontological argument is about to rear its head. Supposedly the maximally greatest being that we can conceive of must be the “goodest” being there is, though I really have yet to determine how we can know that benevolence is objectively superior to malevolence. I subjectively prefer benevolence to malevolence because malevolence seems to increase human suffering while benevolence tends to decrease suffering.

      IOW, what makes Good better than Evil? Is it not based subjectively on individual preference?

      • randal

        One could appeal to the ontologial argument, but one needn’t do so as evidence to justify belief in the proposition that God is maximally good unless a defeater exists for that hypothesis. But as these arguments have demonstrated the problem of evil underdetermines whether or not a benevolent God exists by establishing that the existence of such a deity is consistent with the degree of evil that we find in the world.

      • Jag Levak

        “I’m sure the ontological argument is about to rear its head. ”

        So let’s give it another head.

        There is nothing inherently contradictory about the idea of a maximally evil being.
        That means there is a possible world in which it exists.
        Just as it is worse to be an actual evil being than a non-existent evil being, it is also worse to be a necessarily existing evil being than a possibly not-existing evil being.
        So a maximally evil being exists in all possible worlds, including ours.

        “I really have yet to determine how we can know that benevolence is objectively superior to malevolence”

        To settle that, we can let the maximally good head and the maximally evil head duke it out while we go on about our business.

        • pete

          A Christian Theist shouldn’t have a problem with asserting a maximally wicked being: Satan.

          While not being an argument for the proof of God, I hope that confession of a maximally wicked being is in no way contradictory to faith in the Trinity as being maximally good and perfect.

          At the risk of sounding like a Calvanist who is unfeeling, I see analogy between God and Law Enforcment (gimme a break…. it’s where I come from..)

          1) God like Law Enforcement have the good of the public in mind

          2) Both respond to punish evil and protect the innocent

          3) Both sometimes allow the evidence/crimes to pile up before swooping in for the arrest…. it makes for better evidence in court

          4) Both use “entrapment”: the concept of providing an opportunity for the “bad guy” to commit the crime before arresting them (compare a cop arranging for an undercover agent to do dope buy from a drug dealer)

          The analogy breaks down when it comes to resources. The police are finite, while ontologically, God is infinite. And when by-standers get hurt, on the police part it was an accident/unforseen. When it is God, it is designed and forseen. I trust/have faith God knows what he is doing when it happens.

          The EG argument is further broken down, upon Christian confession that “the god of this world”…. Satan… is an agent who works against the spiritual awakening of non/dis-believers.

          What it boils down to is who is stronger: God or Satan?

          The EG arguments can only establish the dichotomy, but they can’t solve it.

    • randal

      “But what interests me is what you rely on to arrive at the belief that your god is benevolent.”

      Your question assumes that belief in God and his nature as benevolent is an inductive or abductive hypothesis to explain particular data. It isn’t that any more than belief in the external world or the past is an inductive or abductive hypothesis.

      Feel free to send the Kiva donation any time.

      • Spencer

        “Your question assumes that belief in God and his nature as benevolent is an inductive or abductive hypothesis to explain particular data.”

        I’ll rephrase the question: what *arguments* do you endorse in support the conclusion that an all-good God exists?

        • randal

          The ontological argument and moral arguments would both support the conclusion that God is all good. But by my definition “God is good” is an analytic truth, so it doesn’t really require an independent argument for God’s maximal goodness.

          • Spencer

            An independent argument is needed to establish that there is a Personal Creator Being who is all-good, and I suppose that’s where the ontological and moral arguments come in. Do you think those arguments are dialectically effective?

            • randal

              Do I think they’re dialectically effective? As I’ve pointed out before, a question like that is akin to asking “Do you think that a down jacket is effective protection agaisnt the elements?” It depends. A down jacket isn’t effective in a rainstorm or in Death Valley at high noon, but it is good for a cold, dry day. Something similar is true of the arguments in question. They’re effective in some circumstances but not in others.

          • Ed Babinski

            Hi Randal,

            You wrote, “by my definition ‘God is good’ is an analytic truth, so it doesn’t really require an independent argument for God’s maximal goodness.”

            I don’t know what kind of self-hypnosis the phrase, “analytic truth” (or the word “truth”) initiates in your mind. But in my mind you have delivered an “analytic proposition,” not an “analytic truth,” and you have proven nothing about the truthfulness of such a proposition.

            An analytic proposition that is uncontestably truthful is this one, “All bachelors are unmarried men.” Because by definition bachelors are men who are not married.

            But the term “God” is a milti-faceted and contested concept, especially when compared with bachelors. “God” is too ubiquitious a term, and “God’s” manifestations too questionable to be considered just as visible and singularly defined as a “bachelor.”

            So the statement “God is Good” is itself contestable and not “an analytic truth.” There is no singular definition of God like there is a singular definition of a bachelor as an unmarried man. God is a multi-faceted concept, and not all conceptions of “God” agree that “God” is omnipotent, omniscient, omni-benevolent, onmi-just, and personal.

            It might be your chosen axiom that “God is Good,” but that is a presupposition, a contestable preposition, not “an analytic truth.”

            • randal

              “I don’t know what kind of self-hypnosis the phrase, “analytic truth” (or the word “truth”) initiates in your mind. But in my mind you have delivered an “analytic proposition,” not an “analytic truth,” and you have proven nothing about the truthfulness of such a proposition.”

              I think you misunderstood what I was saying. The claim is this “If God exists then God is good” is analytic in the same way as “If a bachelor exists then the bachelor is unmarried”.

              “But the term “God” is a milti-faceted and contested concept, especially when compared with bachelors.”

              Sure, there are many concepts of God. But I work with the concept of God in mainstream classical theism and in mainstream Christian theology and Christian piety, not the one you might find on the metaphysics shelf of your local bookstore or in Edith Hamilton’s Mythology.

              So I wasn’t under self-hypnosis after all.

              • Walter

                Sure, there are many concepts of God. But I work with the concept of God in mainstream classical theism and in mainstream Christian theology and Christian piety, not the one you might find on the metaphysics shelf of your local bookstore or in Edith Hamilton’s Mythology

                Classical Theism (Aristotelian-Thomism) posits a god that is neither good nor bad but is the source of all goodness (evil is seen as privation of good). The classical theist would accuse you of holding to a view of god that is closer to Theistic-Personalism: that god is a maximally good person of unlimited power and knowledge. I am curious if you have any thoughts on the subject?

                • randal

                  “Classical Theism (Aristotelian-Thomism) posits a god that is neither good nor bad but is the source of all goodness….”

                  Walter, methinks you better read your Aquinas more carefully. For a Thomist it is most emphatically both/and.

                  “To be good belongs pre-eminently to God.” (Summa Theologica, 1.6.1).

                  Aquinas explains further in the next article: “God is the supreme good simply, and not only as existing in any genus or order of things. For good is attributed to God, as was said in the preceding article, inasmuch as all desired perfections flow from Him as from the first cause. They do not, however, flow from Him as from a univocal agent, as shown above (Question 4, Article 2); but as from an agent which does not agree with its effects either in species or genus.” (1.6.2)

                  And this is broadly representative of the Christian tradition and classical theism. The view that God is not himself good is not.

              • Is the story about Craig's need of $300 true and also accurate?

                Hi Randal,

                You wrote, ” ‘If God exists then God is good’ is analytic in the same way as ‘If a bachelor exists then the bachelor is unmarried.’ ”

                The difference is that the ONLY definition of bachelor is “unmarried man.” That’s analytic. But the only definition of God is not “good.”

                Second, you wrote, “Sure, there are many concepts of God. But I work with the concept of God in mainstream classical theism and in mainstream Christian theology and Christian piety, not the one you might find on the metaphysics shelf of your local bookstore or in Edith Hamilton’s Mythology.”

                Again, you failed to make an analytic statement about “God.” You failed as soon as you admitted, “sure there are many concepts of God.”

                What you confuse with being an “analytic statement” (you originaly wrote “analytic truth”) about “God” turns out to be nothing of the sort but a laundry list of metaphysical and theological beliefs that ignores every other rival philosopher’s and rival religionists’ statements about God.

                So what you’ve said so far is about as far as one can get from making an actual “analytic statement” about “God.”

                • randal

                  “The difference is that the only definition of bachelor is “unmarried man.” That’s analytic. But the only definition of God is not “good.””

                  That’s irrelevant. The point is that the doxastic communities I referenced treat “God is good” as analytic.

                  Here’s another way to think about it. Since language is always changing it is possible that “bachelor” could be used by some people in the future as a way to refer to any presently unmarried male, including divorcees and widowers. But that wouldn’t change the fact that other people would still be treating the statement “All bachelors are unmarried” as analytic relative to their accepted definition of bachelor.

                  • The statement "God is good" is NOT analytic in the same sense as "bachelors are unmarried men," "A = A," and, "2 +2 = 4."

                    Randal,

                    Your reply is basically like asserting “. . . in MY doxastic community” [you said in "those" communities, which are yours] we believe that “God is good” is an analytical statement about God.

                    You’re still trying to defend that as an analytic statment on the above basis, by saying, “in their [my] communities?”

                    But there are as many “doxastic communities” as there are beliefs about God. So all you are saying is that each such community can “believe” that the statement, “God is good,” is an “analytic statment,” if they want to, or not if they are in some other doxastic community.

                    Bravo. That’s like saying, “But in my community, bachelors are unmarried FEmales, because in my community of believers that’s how WE define things.”

                    Your second argument, that “language is always changing,” is even worse and only proves the point I’ve made that you are trying to define “analytic statements” any way you choose rather than face the fact that some statements raise far more questions among far more people than others do, and claiming the title “analytic truth” for such statements simply makes their mutual comprehension by other communities even less likely.

                    The statement “God is good” is NOT analytic in the same sense as “bachelors are unmarried men,” “A = A,” and, “2 +2 = 4.”

                    Neither does repeating that “such a statement IS analytic, in my community,” add the slightest philosophical weight to such a statement among a wider spectrum of philosophers and religionists of different communities.

                    • randal

                      “So all you are saying is that each such community can “believe” that the statement, “God is good,” is an “analytic statment,” if they want to, or not if they are in some other doxastic community.”

                      Ed, words are imbued with meaning by communities of language users. Thus, as I pointed out, just as some communities of language users may use the term “bachelor” in such a way that “all bachelors are (and have never been) married” is analytic, so other communities of language users may use the term in such a way that “all bachelors are (and have never been) married” is not only not analytic but not even true.

                      The same goes with the word “God”. It should be obvious to you (I would have thought) that this word too is imbued with meaning by the communities of language users that use the word. Thus, in the Judeo-Christian and classical theist communities of language users the word refers to a being that is maximally great and thus “God is good” is an analytic statement within these communities, that is, one in which (in Kant’s terminology) the predicate “is good” is contained implicitly within the subject “God” as defined by that community.

  • Stephen Law

    Hi Randal

    First, you have misunderstood the Morriston paper. Wes doesn’t say that the quantity of evil does not establish there’s no good god. He says that the skeptical theist’s best bet is to say that the good we see gives us no reason to reject an evil good and similarly the evil we see gives us not reason to reject the good god. You and Craig have both taken that route. Wise, as you’ve basically got no choice once you sign up to skeptical theism.

    However, I have pointed out that (i) this skepticism is highly counter-intuitive especially re. the evil god hypothesis, (ii) essentially just asserted, not argued for by Craig (which is clearly not good enough, given it’s counter-intuitive), and (iii) in any case STILL leaves Craig having to explain why a good god is significantly more reasonable than an evil god, the latter being, as he admitted, absurd (as TAM just pointed out). All Craig offered were his moral and resurrection arguments as he presented them on the night. Which were very weak.

    So it turns out Stephen Law didn’t “go wrong” with his evil god argument at all.

    In fact, so far as I can see, Craig entirely fail to deal with it.

    • randal

      “You and Craig have both taken that route.”

      It is misleading to state it in that way because it sounds like we (or I) are (or am) retreating to that position. But that’s not correct. My own position has never been otherwise, at least not for as long as I’ve critically reflected on the issue over the last several years.

      You persist in misrepresenting this position by calling it “skepticism”. That is a strange use of the term skepticism. Is it skepticism to recognize that idealism and realism provide two different interpretations of all our sensory experience?

      And for you to declare that this position is “highly counterintutive” merely translates as the assertion that I ought to find this position highly counterintuitive. Why? Presumably because doing so would put me on the defensive.

      On the contrary, I find your position highly counterintuitive. And I still wonder how you avoid applying it to other issues like realism vs. idealism.

      • Ed Babinski

        Hi Randal,

        We agree I think that the EG argument only demonstrates the flexibility of philosophical argumentation and its spectrum of possible interpretations of different “God” hypotheses.

        It leaves us where we began, with such questions as:

        1) Does a Good or Evil God exist?

        2) How can we know?

        3) For that matter how can we know to what extent Good and to what extent Evil?

        4) A possible mixture perhaps?

        The cosmos seems to remain in equilibrium between life and death of living organisms with the vast majority of the cosmos deadly toward life–and with species, planets and even stars having both beginnings and endings (though stars can burn for billions of years).

        How about a Cosmic programmer and/or Cosmic Tinkerer?

        Robert Anton Wilson proposed the following:

        “I don’t believe anything, but I have many suspicions…I strongly suspect that a world ‘external to,’ or at least independent of, my senses exists in some sense. I also suspect that this world shows signs of intelligent design, and I suspect that such intelligence acts via feedback from all parts to all parts and without centralized sovereignity, like Internet; and that it does not function hierarchically, in the style an Oriental despotism, an American corporation or Christian theology. I somewhat suspect that Theism and Atheism both fail to account for such decentralized intelligence, rich in circular-causal feedback.”

        In other words, questions, questions, questions. . .

        • randal

          “I don’t believe anything, but I have many suspicions”

          Does he believe that, or is that yet more suspicion?

          • Is the story about Craig’s need of $300 true and also accurate?

            Hi Randal,

            Are you saying that beliefs and suspicions are the same thing? Great, can you please create a post on your blog with the title, “Randall Rauser Suspects Christianity is True?” Maybe you can even substitute “Creedal Belief System,” with “Holy Suspicions?”

            • randal

              “Are you saying that beliefs and suspicions are the same thing?”

              I couldn’t possibly be saying that since I asked whether the statement in question is a belief or a suspicion. Thus your comment leaves me thoroughly perplexed.

              • Is the story about Craig’s need of $300 true and also accurate?

                Randal,

                It’s not perplexing to me.

                Robert Anton Wilson wrote, “I don’t believe anything, but I have many suspicions”

                Then you wrote, “Does he believe that, or is that yet more suspicion?”

                Your point was that having a suspicion implies some level of belief. I agreed but made a joke that illlustrated that beliefs and suspicions were not equivalent.

                In other words, you wanted to point out that suspicions include some level of belief, and I wanted to point out that they exclude some level of belief.

                Apparently you were the one who did not understand that Wilson was using hyperbole when he said he “had no beliefs,” but had suspicions. Wilson was pointing out what you admit, that having beliefs and having suspicions are not equivalent. But if you had read the Wilson quotation like you read the Bible, noting its hyperbolic statements, then you might not have made such a wise acre reply in the first place.

                • randal

                  “Your point was that having a suspicion implies some level of belief.”

                  No, actually the exact opposite. Suspicion that p is not belief that p.

                  Of course it is trivially true that suspicion that p entails beliefs such as “I suspect that p but don’t believe it”, so if that is all you’re saying then sure, that’s true. But that’s the problem for Wilson. If he says “I don’t believe anything” I wonder whether he believes that. I suspect he does. And that set my contradiction bell a’ringing.

                  • Is the story about Craig’s need of $300 true and also accurate?

                    If only Wilson’s statement had rung your hyperbole bells instead of your contradiction bells. *smile*

                    At any rate if that kind of minor bell ringing is all you got out of my list of questions and Wilson’s list of suspicions, then I’d say you ought to reread them.

                    • randal

                      “If only Wilson’s statement had rung your hyperbole bells instead of your contradiction bells.”

                      Unfortunately you can’t plausibly defend him by appealing to hyperbole because in your quote he even says he’s holding out on there being an external world. He sounds like a pyrrhonian skeptic, in which case asking whether his skepticism is consistent is not nit-picking about hyperbole, it’s pointing out a fundamental inconsistency which goes to the very root of his epistemology. Think of it as a crack which, while appearing superficial to you, in fact goes to the foundation.

  • Steve

    How about this; If God exists he can do whatever he wants.

    Don’t like it?

    Too bad for you.

    • pete

      Nice one….. a bit jerky…. but true

      • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

        So, the people who went along with the Nazis had the right idea, they just picked the wrong bully to submit to?

        • Steve

          Nope. Hitler was not the creator.

          • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

            What justifies the principle that “the creator of something gets to do whatever they like to it”?

            Secondly, does the principle carry over to “the creator of someone gets to do whatever they like to that person“?

        • pete

          Ray,

          Why do you think my God is a bully?

          • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

            The “God… can do whatever he wants” part.

            • pete

              Ontologically, the fact that God CAN do what ever he wants does mean that he WILL or DOES bully.

              Western sensibilities are often offended at concepts of supreme accountability and obedience to a parent/teacher/cop, let alone God.

              Our aversion to obedience doesn’t make a parent/teacher/cop…. God, a bully.

              They are simply exercising a perrogative of their respective mandates.

              God’s mandate includes punishment for wickedness, hypocricy (which Christians need to be especially mindful of), and unbelief.

              • Ed Babinski

                [Hi Pete, and others. Per Peter's mention of "divine mandates," I was wondering,] do parents, teachers and cops have “divine mandates?” What about when Christian parents beat their children to try and break their wills? Or when teachers teach flood geology? Or cops beat up peaceful protestors?

                I think society, like the brain, like moral judgments, involve a host of feedback loops, not “divine mandates.”

                • pete

                  I didn’t say parents/teachers/cops have divine mandates….. I simply said that they have mandates/job descriptions, including discipline/enforcement and the like.

                  While it is horrible and regrettable that some parents/teachers/cops abuse their authority at times, it would be folly to suggest that parents/teachers/cops should not have the mandate/job description of facilitating, maintaining, and sometimes enforcing order and obedience, for the well being of society.

                  It would also be folly to rail against God because he has the power to do all things….. it smacks a little of jealosy/rebellion…. and short-sightedness, as it would be human might that makes right….. and that is a scary thought indeed.

                  I’m glad that the Almighty is All-Perfect, and doesn’t abuse his power.

                  • http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2010/03/c-s-lewis-provocative-poignant-profound.html Ed Babinski

                    Peter,

                    Glad to see we agree there is nothing necessarily nor inherently divine about the mandates of educators and police officers. But that’s my point. Society functions without divine mandates.

                    And if it’s “folly,” as you say, “to rail against God because he has the power to do all things,” then have you taken to heart C. S. Lewis’ reply to your “might makes right” argument?

                    C. S. Lewis wrote:

                    “The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘so there’s no God after all,’ but, ‘So this is what God is really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’”

                    Only four months before his death, Lewis wrote in a letter to an American philosopher that there were dangers in judging God by moral standards. However, he maintained that “believing in a God whom we cannot but regard as evil, and then, in mere terrified flattery calling Him ‘good’ and worshipping Him, is still greater danger.”

                    Lewis was responding specifically to the question of Joshua’s slaughter of the Canaanites by divine decree and Peter’s striking Ananias and Sapphira dead.

                    Knowing that the evangelical doctrine of the Bible’s infallibility required him to approve of “the atrocities (and treacheries) of Joshua,” Lewis made this surprising concession: “The ultimate question is whether the doctrine of the goodness of God or that of the inerrancy of Scriptures is to prevail when they conflict. I think the doctrine of the goodness of God is the more certain of the two indeed, only that doctrine renders this worship of Him obligatory or even permissible.”

                    “To this some will reply ‘ah, but we are fallen and don’t recognize good when we see it.’ But God Himself does not say that we are as fallen at all that. He constantly, in Scripture, appeals to our conscience: ‘Why do ye not of yourselves judge what is right?’ — ‘What fault hath my people found in me?’ And so on. Socrates’ answer to Euthyphro is used in Christian form by Hooker. Things are not good because God commands them; God commands certain things because he sees them to be good. (In other words, the Divine Will is the obedient servant to the Divine Reason.) The opposite view (Ockham’s, Paley’s) leads to an absurdity. If ‘good’ means ‘what God wills’ then to say ‘God is good’ can mean only ‘God wills what he wills.’ Which is equally true of you or me or Judas or Satan.”

                    To Dom Bede Griffiths, Dec. 20, 1961: “Even more disturbing as you say, is the ghastly record of Christian persecution. It had begun in Our Lord’s time – ‘Ye know not what spirit ye are of’ (John of all people!) I think we must fully face the fact that when Christianity does not make a man very much better, it makes him very much worse…Conversion may make of one who was, if no better, no worse than an animal, something like a devil.”

                    SOURCE: http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2010/03/c-s-lewis-provocative-poignant-profound.html

  • Eric

    Professor Law, did you ever get around to responding to Professor Feser’s critique of your evil god argument? I know that there’s only so much time in the day, but it seemed to me that Feser demonstrated that your argument has no purchase as far as the dominant (in the Western philosophical tradition, anyway) classical theistic conception of god is concerned. I’m sure you’d disagree with me (either that, or reject the elements of the classical conception of god that seem to immunize it from your evil god challenge), bit it’d be interesting to see on what grounds. It’s always a pleasure to read your work, and I appreciate the way you take the time to engage your critics in forums like this.

    • randal

      “It’s always a pleasure to read your work, and I appreciate the way you take the time to engage your critics in forums like this.”

      Amen to that.

    • Steve

      Those posts are not by THE Stephen Law.

      And you know it.

  • Walter

    I would like to know why a maximally amoral god could not exist? Could there not be a supreme being that transcends morality as we know it?

    If a person were to reject the notion that this world has fallen from a perfected state, could not the evidence of both good and evil in the world be evidence of a Creator who is an ambiguous mix of both good and evil?

    • pete

      a mixture of anything would be hard to declare “maximal”

      A god who was indifferent to suffering would be immoral.

      • Walter

        a mixture of anything would be hard to declare “maximal”

        Would not a god capable of good AND evil be greater in ability than one that could only do good OR evil?

        A god who was indifferent to suffering would be immoral.

        Or amoral.

        • pete

          Compromise and lack of integrity is not maximally great. It’s luke-warm at best. (cf. Jesus’ letter to the Ladocians in Revelation 3)

          It becomes immoral when said God could do something about the moral code he concievably created, and then didn’t do anything about it.

          He would be a hypocrite. Hypocricy is biblically defined as sinful.

          Not to rehash ECT, but that is my Calvanist standing on God’s passability to crimes against God and humanity.

          He won’t let this sinful circus go on forever.

          • Walter

            pete, we are discussing hypotheticals about god on purely philosophical grounds. Your theological arguments are based on belief that a certain set of ancient human texts are a–supposedly inerrant–revelation from the hypothetical god of our discussion. You are introducing a whole truckload of assumptions that are beyond the scope of this particular discussion.

      • Steve

        Says who?

        • pete

          it’s easier to attack the Good God “hypothesis” if you don’t have a Good God to refer to.

          And I confess that since the Father of Jesus Christ is the only God, and ontologically the best/”goodest” God, then without the Biblically exposited Triune God, there would be no good god.

          When you reject the testimony of scripture, it is quite easy to imagine any range of possibilities, but you will never sustain the Good God argument by appealing exlusively to abstract classical Greek concepts.

          Helpful though Classical Greek thought is, the gods of the Greeks were precisely the ones that Paul refuted in Acts 17.

          Classical Greek thought and natural revelation point us towards God, but special revelation makes plain what is murky without it.

  • The Atheist Missionary

    Pete, why did your maximally perfect god create Satan and the “sinful circus”?

    Do you believe that a literal fall of humanity in the Garden of Eden occurred? If so, why should Agam and Eve be blamed for eating the forbidden fruit before they learned to tell the difference between good and evil? If you do not believe in the literal fall, how do you explain the concept of original sin?

    Also, please answer my favorite question for Calvinists: If your god has already preordained who is elect and who is a reprobate, why should anyone bother to get out of bed, theologically speaking?

    • pete

      Walter and TAM:

      I will respond more fully, but just on way to church.

      Short answer to Walter: On a classical greek reasoning platform, I think an omniscient/omnipotent/omnibenevolent God is not inferior to his creation, and can communicate with them. I believe he has done so with the Holy Bible, and don’t feel that I am acting outside the scope of this discussion. I think his revelation fit will with the GG hypothesis. An EG would leave us more in the dark.

      TAM: I an undetermined as of yet on the total literality of the Creation/Fall account, only to say that it contains timeless truth, and I do believe in a literal Adam and Eve.

      For the Quietist comment: Jesus’ parable of the Bags of Gold / Servants with talents is the best anti-quietist teaching I can think of.

      Probably get back to you both more fully later today or tomorrow.

      Thanks for the patience

    • pete

      TAM:

      I do believe in the fall of humanity in the Garden. But not a literal fall, like Adam and Eve tripped, smacking their faces on a stone, and scrambling their brains to sin…. I gotta make a bit of fun over your “literal fall” comment.

      They chose to disobey God, and we act in kind. They/we are accountable because they/we followed the devil (idolatry) as opposed to the one true God.

      My “literality” internal-debate skews me in favour of Old Earth Creationism, on the scientific evidence and scripture citing that “a day is as 1000 years to the Lord”.

      But the fall I do confess.

      Romans Chapter 9 is probably the best on the accountability debate. Paul doesn’t seek to justify God on our logic. Instead, he makes the message more offensive (to some) by stating that God even hardens who he wants to harden (Pharoah) for his own purposes. Paul offers us the explanation that in comparison to the judgement on unbelievers, the believers could maximally experience God’s mercy.

      Its a tough message, granted. But it doesn’t make the warnings less true.

      Calvanist enough for ya ;)

  • pete

    Walter:

    Now that I grasp the point you were making: sustained. I am bringing special revelation into the mix.

    However, for me that is what tips the evidential balance in favour of the GG hypothesis, and away from EG or “amoral god” (AG) arguments.

    Without the saving ministry of Christ, and the regenerative ministry of the Holy Spirit, Yahweh in isolation displays characteristics of WG – “Warrior God”, IDG – “Israel Delieverer God”, and IPG – “Israel Punisher God”

    It is through the self-disclosure of Good God that we can move from classical abstract speculative, into a salvific, relevant, and awe inspiring picture of Yahweh fully disclosed through Jesus, as understood through the Holy Spirit.

    The Bible (work of the Holy Spirit himself) gives the face, personality, desires, hurts, and love of the Living Triune God of “all Israel”.

    I’m certainly not trying to convince you in this argument of the validity of the texts that you do not find authoritative…. although I wish I could….

    I’m just trying to show how the texts support the Good God hypothesis, and it is entirely appropriate for a Christian to refer to them for their theodicy in testimony and support of the Holy and loving Triune God of the Bible.

  • http://www.atheistmissionary.com/ The Atheist Missionary

    No discussion of evil-god arguments would be complete without referencing Peter Millican’s fine The Devil’s Advocate: http://www.millican.org/papers/1989DevAdv.pdf

    I would like to salute academics like Millican, Law and Randal who are generous enough to make their writings available to the public online. One of my first encounters with Randal was when he made me aware of his article On the Immorality of Disproving Peter Unger: http://randalrauser.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/On_the_Immorality_of_Disproving_Peter_Unger.pdf

  • http://www.atheistmissionary.com/ The Atheist Missionary

    Forgot to mention that Millican debated Craig on October 21, 2011 – available on iTunes as a podcast from the October 26th episode of Unbelievable? Law and Millican made a admirable one-two punch against Craig’s predictable (now becoming tiring) bombast.

  • Wilson’s not that difficult to grasp

    Randal, You seem to be having a devil of a time admitting that Wilson is saying anything at all, and you’re not giving his questions the benefit of a doubt, but instead you’re seeking to ferret out some inconsistency of his that “goes to the very root of his epistemology.”

    But there is no “fundamental inconsistency” in Wilson saying “I strongly suspect that a world ‘external to,’ or at least independent of, my senses exists in some sense.” Relative to his other suspicions that is a strong one.

    Can’t you admit that some suspicions are stronger than others?

    Can’t you also admit that going around telling people, “I believe this and I believe that,” about all the big questions is like trying to hammer nails of belief into other people rather than putting it in the form of “having suspicions,” and placing those along a spectrum of their relative strengths? That latter even seems more scientific and a more likely to open and continue conversation with others.

    There is also a psychological element at play in our different manner of viewing Wilson’s questions and his use of language. For instance, I suspect that I’d feel more at ease hanging with a skeptic like Pyrrho than with Saint Paul. “For a jesting wisdom is gentler than an unbridled sanctity. In the fervent mind you always find the camouflaged beast of prey.”

    For instance the “belief” that compassionate, neighborly, and intelligent human beings throughout history are “going to hell” for their “lack of faith and/or false beliefs”–according to inter-testamental and first century apocalyptic religious writings–seems to me to be more like ancient ploy by some humans to try and provoke unbridled sanctity in other humans, because humans fear other humans and also refuse to get to know and trust themselves, even in a relative sense, just as you seem unable to trust anything Wilson says, with his language of relative approximations of his suspicions.

    • randal

      “Can’t you admit that some suspicions are stronger than others?”

      Of course. But that doesn’t mean Wilson doesn’t also have beliefs. He does. So the big question is why he affirms some propositions (i.e. believes them) and holds out on others.

      “Can’t you also admit that going around telling people, “I believe this and I believe that,” about all the big questions is like trying to hammer nails of belief into other people rather than putting it in the form of “having suspicions,” and placing those along a spectrum of their relative strengths?”

      Is this a way of saying that we should apportion belief to the relative strength of a position, or that we shouldn’t be dogmatic (or both)? I’m on board with that. But it still doesn’t answer my question about which propositions Wilson actually believes and why.

      “I suspect that I’d feel more at ease hanging with a skeptic like Pyrrho than with Saint Paul.”

      Don’t fall into what I call the certainty fallacy: http://randalrauser.com/2011/05/the-certainty-fallacy/

      • Ed Babinski

        Randal,

        I have not fallen for a fallacy. Neither has Wilson. Review a history of philosophy book and see for yourself how many of the big questions have remained contested since the days of the Pre-Socratics till today. Many big questions continue being asked in new ways, and still remain contested. Even the question “how best to define what is true” has multiple theories, and there’s at least eight different theories of “ethics” in philosophy, each with points to commend them and subsequent questions.

        The fallacy is all yours if you claim that one must admit one has specific “beliefs” about the big questions as to what lay behind the metaphysical curtain. And you call your own beliefs about the big questions “analytic truths?!” (a mere sleight of hand, verbally speaking).

        I believe you acknowledge that you sometimes have atheistic thoughts even atheistic feelings? Even if such thoughts snd feelings flash through your mind like a quick breeze past your face, I’m sure you can admit you have had them, and thus you should be able to grasp that someone like me might have flashes that linger longer than yours? My flashes are also not limited to theism of a particular sort or atheism. There’s a spectrum of different theistic views. Wilson advocated that people treat their philosophical and religious views like physicists treat their hypotheses, namely that there is no shame in acknowledging the existence of alternative or even multiple hypotheses concerning matters for which there is no firm universally recognized evidence.

        I don’t consider any particular definition of “God” (which is a multi-faceted concept involving hidden variables and even invisibility), to be an “analytic truth.” (Speaking of which there’s an interdisciplinary “God?” forum on campus this week to which students of all religious beliefs or none have been invited.)

        In a similar fashion I don’t see much point in trying to label myself, though I tentatively accept the designation agnostic. To me I’m a human being with questions. My questions are based on my personal experiences and years of study just as your “analytic truths” are. But for me the questions are more obvious and puzzling.

        Speaking of my theistic side, I’m moved by music and literature including portions of the Bible. The 23rd Psalm moves me and evokes the feeling of being cared for and comforted, even though another side of me suggests I’d rather be compared to a more vigorous and exciting animal than a “sheep.”

        And I think Jesus’ rewrite of OT laws in his Sermon on the Mount contains some gems, my favorite being, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Though another side of me admits that morality can be summed up in any single sentence. Not even that one, since you can get people riled up if you did to them what you wanted done to YOURelf. In other words you have to also consider what they with their tastes and desires might want done to THEMselves, not simply do to other what you want done to YOURself. And there will always be that difference–that no man’s land–between two people such that one cannot simply assume one has knowledge of them, not until you’ve gotten to know a person. The process of interacting with others over time seems to be how we actually learn morality.

        SOMETHING THAT AMAZES ME

        The thought that the cosmos, consisting mostly of hydrogen, time, space, and gravity could evolve intelligent self-conscious life forms is pretty amazing. From hydrogen to humans? How did THAT happen? At least one known species that arose in such a cosmos, humans, have evolved to the point of being able to build instruments that they use to examine the cosmos and ask questions about the origins of the cosmos itself. A piece trying to grasp the whole. What a strange loop that is! All of that came about just from hydrogen atoms? That’s a cooler trick than a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Instead, give the magician a single proton and electron and say, “No tricks! Here’s some hydrogen atoms, show me what can you do with JUST those.” Pretty amazing. Does it prove the existence of “God” or of a particular kind of form of “God?” I honestly don’t know. I can see philosophically that there’s several alternative views. Wilson presented one such himself as one of his suspicions.

        It’s also pretty amazing that a brainless amoeba consisting of but one cell can sense prey, pursue and capture it (and even build its own shell-home by picking and choosing teensy slivers of shell on the ocean floor and lining them up together to form several flat walls around itself!). While we have 100 billion cells in our brains with a trillion connections between them–and those are connected to sensory neurons all over the surface of our body–and electro-chemical impulses are passing through them all, even as we sleep. (Of course considering all that an amoeba can do as a single cell, I’m not too surprised by what humans with their 100 billion cells connected in over a trillion ways. I also recently read Damasio the neuroscientist admit, “My perspective on consciousness has changed a lot. I used to think of consciousness as a late evolutionary development, a property that gave access to higher thinking and reasoning and tended to be largely human, although not exclusively. But now I see consciousness as something that is widely available in many other species—in all mammals and birds and reptiles, for example. The forerunners of consciousness can be found in the processes of managing life that are present in very simple life-forms. Take the example of bacterial cells, which can even organize socially. Without a brain or a nervous system of any kind, bacteria can sense how many of them are there in a group—something called quorum-sensing—and decide to attack or not based on the collective messages they pool. In a way, they are answering, by dint of their behavior, an unposed and complicated question such as ‘Do we have enough troops to fight for this territory?’ ”)

        My mind also drifts to considering the hardships that have been endured by animals, hominids and humans over time to get to where modern day humans are, i.e., hominids and humans had to struggle, chip rocks for eons to make them pointy enough to kill other animals and eat them, forage for food and risk eating the wrong things, struggle to stay warm in winter and cool in summer, tame fire, evolve a language, invent the wheel and simple machines, domesticate animals, learn to grow grain and vegetables, invent a way to keep written records so that the positive lessons (and past mistakes) of countless past generations can be passed on to future generations. When I think of all we owe to the struggles and hard won knoweldge of countless animal, hominid, and human species, I can’t say, strickly intellectually, that I see a personal divine hand behind the entire process, one that had all those struggles, dangers, deaths, mass extinction events, wrong turns, hits and misses, or trials and errors in mind just to get to Moses, Jesus, the Popes, Luther, Pat Robertson and Steve Hays, and the 45 thousand different Christian churches, sects, denominations, and missionary organizations in the world today? Not including other religions and their different sub-divisions.

        Speaking a bit more about the trials of life on earth and questioning whether there is a personal divine hand guiding humanity (or what kind of “divine hand” that might be), I’ve read that human zygotes and early embryos have a 50% morality rate from the moment of conception to the first month of pregnancy. That’s still true today. And in the past til the 1700s half of all humans who were born died before reaching the age of eight-years-old.

        THE ADAM QUESTION (A CHRISTIAN THEISTIC QUESTION THAT IS GROWING IN PROMINENCE AND DIVIDING CHRISTIANS TODAY)

        I assume you [Randal] believe

        1) A group of interbreeding early hominids became “human” together.

        2) One or all of them “fell” in some “spiritual” way together.

        HERE ARE MY QUESTIONS

        a) How did one interbreeding group of hominids become “human” all together? If only one of them became “human” at a time then how long did that first human have to wait until a second human of the opposite sex happened to evolve within the group?

        b) Trying to define “human” biologically is a question with fuzzy answers. Consider the thought experiment of changing one base pair at a time in the DNA of all the cells of a chimpanzee, over and over again, just changing one base pair at a time, until you eventually change that chimp into a “human being.” At what change of which base-pair in its DNA does the chimp become a “human being?” It’s a fuzzy question. Maybe there is no one base-pair change than can do it, maybe increases in consciousness are more of a continuum than a complete discontinuity?

        c) Is “greater consciousness” necessarily THE definition of “being human?” If we were to raise the consciousness of say an elephant or a dolphin via genetic engineering would that mean we’d have to start evangelizing them to save their souls? And would they believe us if we told them that a “human” was nailed to two pieces of wood for the “sins” of that elephant and dolphin? (Raising the mental ability and consciousness of another species is not beyond the reach of current science. Embryos of different species can receive embryonic cells from other species and not reject them, so long as the transplantation is done with embryonic cells. In one recent experiment some brain cells of a human embryo were implanted into a small part of the brain of an embryonic rat, and the human brain cells took root and displayed healthy electrical activity and connectivity with the rat’s own brain cells even after the rat had grown up. It’s possible that a lot more embryonic human brain cells could be impanted into the embryo of another species, into say, the brain region of an embryonic chimpanzee? What kind of superior mental capabilities might that afford such a chimpanzee?)

        d) Chimpanzees like other great apes (including humans) suckle their young and care for them. Franz de Waal the primatologist tells the story of how he brought his infant son with him to a bonobo chimpanzee enclosure and his son was strapped to Franz’s chest but facing outward, and a female bonobo chimpanzee saw Franz through the glass and took her own recently born child’s hands in her own and picked up her child holding it up to the glass so it was eye-level with Franz’s infant son, and the proud mother looked into Franz’s eyes. Franz was moved by that simple gesture of a chimpanzee, his genetic cousin. Bonobos also engage in sexual activities with one another to a degree that is quite alarming compared with your average human sexual activity, even when compared with your average Pan chimpanzee sexual activity. How can such activites of our near cousins be explained theologically? The mother love? As well as the frequent enjoyment of “free love,” including same-sex pairings, among bonobos? Can there even be a theological explanation? Isn’t it a little silly to call human beings “fallen,” and “sinners,” when we see these bonobos, these near cousins of ours with their mother love and also free love? Bonobos are also as near to humans genetically as sibling species of near identical fruit flies are to one another.

        e) Speaking of “free love,” could the earliest group of “humans” on earth also inter-breed with their nearest upright hominid cousins? I bet they could because there’s evidence that Archaic Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals sometimes interbred. So I can imagine that the first “humans” might also have interbed with their nearest non-human cousins. If they did, what would that make their offspring? If you believe in a dualistic body/soul distinction would such interbreeding produce a Mendelian trait such that some offspring are born with souls, and some without? Even if you are a Christian who is a brain-mind monist rather than a dualist, the question would be, might not some of the offspring of such cross-breeding be “human” and some “not be human” depending on which genes the offspring received?

        f) Expanding on question d), what “sin” did this first group of “humans” commit together? Wasn’t the world already filled with death and natural sexual longing and natural aggression/self-interest? Conversely, what about the natural actions (akin to forgiveness) that chimps and other primates have been seen to exhibit toward each other after a scuffle, such as extending a hand or hugging? And what about the natural empathy that chimps have been seen showing toward one another? Or the natural care that even dinosaurs were believed to exhibit toward their offspring? In other words the world already had aggression/self-interest and empathy before the first “humans” arose. The world already had “sin” and “forgiveness/grace.” So what would have been “new” about this first group of “humans,” and “new” about whatever “sin” they all committed together? Compared with modern primatological studies, evolutionary genetics, and the new discipline known as “social neuroscience” (see this booklist http://amzn.com/w/LDERZD47X7DT ), theology seems to be a fuzzy guessing game with it comes to the question of “original sin.”

        • Walter

          That was a very good post that mirrors a lot of my own thoughts (but Ed articulated them far better than I ever could).

        • randal

          Ed, you write: “The fallacy is all yours if you claim that one must admit one has specific “beliefs” about the big questions as to what lay behind the metaphysical curtain. And you call your own beliefs about the big questions “analytic truths?!”

          But the problem is that Wilson did not limit his skepticism to what lays behind a metaphysical curtain. If he was limiting his skepticism in that precise way then I want to ask what that curtain is and how one determines its extent.

          As for the next comment on analytic truth, I can’t help but conclude that you are fundamentally misunderstanding something in my comments. I simply made the point that on a Christian definition of God, “God is good” is analytically true. This should be an obvious point, not a contentious one. So I am completely befuddled concerning the resistance to it.

          From that point, you articulately present a series of fascinating quandaries regarding the emergence of humans and original sin. I agree that these are fascinating and important questions. But I hope you can also agree that this isn’t the place where I have to address them. Fortunately Frederick Robert Tennant did address some of them in his Gifford lectures many years ago.

        • randal

          FYI, here is an earlier treatment I gave I how God is defined: http://randalrauser.com/2011/04/why-is-god-necessary/

          • Walter

            Randal, Have you read Wes Morriston’s critique of the kalam cosmological argument?

            http://www.colorado.edu/philosophy/wes/wes2craig1.pdf

            The aim of this paper is to take a close look at some little discussed aspects of the kalam cosmological argument, with a view to deciding whether there is any reason to believe the causal principle on which it rests (“Whatever begins to exist must have a cause”), and also with a view to determining what conclusions can be drawn about the nature of the First Cause of the universe (supposing that there is one). I am particularly concerned with the problems that arise when it is assumed (as it often is) that that the First Cause is timeless and that it timelessly creates time. I argue that this forces the defender of the kalam argument to analyze the concept of “beginning to exist” in a way that raises series doubts about its main causal principle, and that it also undercuts the main argument for saying that the cause of the universe must be a person.

            • randal

              I’ve read some Wes Morriston stuff before on the kalam but I’m not sure if this is it.

              Having read the precis I can say this: I don’t accept Craig’s Aristotelian view of time (as I understand him) that time is the measurement of change. I believe time is an absolute metric. (Newton’s my homeboy.) I also don’t accept Craig’s arguments that an actual infinite is contradictory. Nonetheless, I believe the empirical evidence for the universe’s origin a finite time ago is best explained by appeal to the actions of an intentional agent of great power.

  • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matthew Flannagan

    TAM, you could look at Robert Adam’s Article, Moral Arguments for Theistic Belief which sketches several moral arguments for Gods existence, all of which if successful provide grounds for believing in a good God, and finishes with a reference to the evil God argument, several decades before Stephen Law mentioned it.

    Perhaps moral arguments establish, at most, subsidiary advantages of belief in
    God’s existence. They are more crucial to the case for his goodness. Causal
    arguments from the existence and qualities of the world may have some force to
    persuade us that there is a God, but they plainly have much less support to
    offer the proposition, (K) If there is a God, he is morally very good.
    (Here I define ‘a God’ as a creator and governor of the whole universe, supreme
    in understanding and knowledge as well as in power, so that (K) is not a
    tautology.)
    There is a powerful moral argument for (K). Belief in the existence of an evil
    or amoral God would be morally intolerable. In view of his power, such belief
    would be apt to carry with it all the disadvantages, theoretical and practical,
    of disbelief in a moral order of the universe. But I am even more concerned
    about the consequences it would have in view of his knowledge and understanding.
    We are to think of a being who understands human life much better than we do–
    understands it well enough to create and control it. Among other things, he must
    surely understand our moral ideas and feelings. He understands everyone’s point
    of view, and has a more objective, or at least a more complete and balanced view
    of human relationships than any of us can have. He has whatever self-control,
    stability, and integration of purpose are implied in his having produced a world
    as constant in its causal order as our own. And now we are to suppose that that
    being does not care to support with his will the moral principles that we
    believe are true. We are to suppose that he either opposes some of them, or does
    not care enough about some of them to act on them. I submit that if we really
    believed there is a God like that, who understands so much and yet disregards some or all of our moral principles, it would be extremely difficult for us to
    continue to regard those principles with the respect that we believe is due
    them. Since we believe that we ought to pay them that respect, this is a great
    moral disadvantage of the belief that there is an evil or amoral God. I think
    the same disadvantage attends even the belief that there is a morally slack God,
    since moral slackness involves some disregard of moral principles. There might
    seem to be less danger in the belief that there is a morally weak God: perhaps
    one who can’t resist the impulse to toy with us immorally, but who feels guilty
    about it. At least he would be seen as caring enough about moral principles to
    feel guilty. But he would not be seen as caring enough about them to control a
    childish impulse. And I think that our respect for the moral law will be
    undermined by any belief which implies that our moral sensibilities were
    created, and are thoroughly understood, by a being who does not find an
    absolutely controlling importance in the ends and principles of true morality.
    I shall not offer here a definitive answer to the question, whether this moral
    argument for belief in God’s goodness is theoretical or practical. There may be
    metaethical views-perhaps some ideal observer theory which imply that nothing
    could be a true moral principle if there is a God who does not fully accept it.
    Such views, together with the thesis that there are true moral principles, would
    imply the truth of (K) and not merely the desirability of believing (K). That
    would produce a theoretical argument.
    On the other hand, it might be claimed that moral principles would still be
    true, and the respect that is due them undiminished, if there were an evil or
    amoral God, but that it would be psychologically difficult or impossible for us
    to respect them as we ought if we believed them to be disregarded or lightly
    regarded by an all-knowing Creator. This claim implies that there is a morally
    important advantage in believing that if there is a God he is morally very good.
    I think that this practical argument for believing (K) is sound, if the
    theoretical argument is not.

    • Ed Babinski

      Hi Matt,

      Adams’ article is online:

      http://commonsenseatheism.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/Adams-Moral-Arguments-for-Theistic-Belief.pdf

      There’s also a bibliography of articles on religion and morality that begins by listing 8 of Adams’ articles:

      http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/2011/11/bibliography-on-religion-and-morality.html

      Personally, I don’t find convincing argumentation for a good God in Adams, especially since he doesn’t even ask obvious hard questions related to evidence from the natural world and the evolutionary development of humanity as I did in my latest reply to Randal above.

      Adams seems to be pointing out “dangers” and making a lot of wishes in the portion you cited, hoping that morality is secure, that there’s a “Supreme Governor” (in other words a God/King) who knows and cares about the feelings of individuals as well as cares about how people treat other people. I also see him as dismissive of the idea that people who do not beleive in such a Supreme Governor can be trustworthy, can simply learn to trust each other. And that the sky will fall unless everyone believes in God (as he defines God). His arguments seem to me to be born more out of the danger he perceives from other humans, and perhaps even fear of daring to get to know himself. And fear of asking more difficult questions with more substance to them, literally, questions based on natural observations, not to mention social neuroscience, primatological observations, evolutionary history, that all raise questions.

      Today it looks more like science is leading religion and theology round by the nose when it comes to the data and observations we have to work with, even on the topic of morality, when compared with simply compiling Bible verses and philosophizing about Supreme Governors as broadly and inconclusively as Adams illustrates.

  • Ed Babinski

    Randal,

    “Analytic statements” are based on “whomever” is using “what” words?

    Then any community can define anything anyway they want, using the same word used by other communities–in this case “God,” and call THEIR definition an “analytic statement,” when it’s really a free for all when it comes to writing THE dictionary definition and listing THE definitive characteristics of “God.”

    So if you want to call your statement “analytic,” and allow everyone else to call their statement about “God” analytic, what’s the point of claiming you have an “analytic truth” at all?

    Some communities don’t even agree that “God” exists.

    And of those communities that do agree “God” exists, they disagree on a host of matters, including the degree to which “God” and his characteristics are effable, ineffable, and to what exent such a “God” is hidden or plainly known by all.

    They also disagree as to what TYPE of Being called “God” exists. There’s process theology notions of “God,” there’s Hindu notions of the great Being of Bramah, there’s Spinozan notions of “God,” there’s impersonal, personal and super-personal (whatever that is) notions of God.

    There’s notions of “God” that include infinite degrees or less than infinite degrees of all or some of the following “divine” attributes: “goodness, badness, caring or not caring or uninterested to various degress,” “omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, transcendance, imminence,” etc. So there’s light, dark, and grey areas. A wide spectrum of statements about “God,” which is far more than one can say about 2 + 2 = 4, or Bachelors are unmarried men.

    So you have not shown that “God is Good” is analytic in the same sense as A = A, or 2 +2 = 4, or bachelors are unmarried men.

    And your attempt to find major disagreements among definitions of the word, bachelor, fail as well. Adding that a bachelor is not married “and never been married before,” is merely to add a minor tag to the universally agreed upon defintion of “unmarried man.”

    • randal

      Ed, respectfully I don’t find anything in what you say that is relevant to my point. If a person defines God as the greatest conceivable being as Christians and other mainstream classical theists do, then for that person “God is good” is an analytic statement.

  • Brad Haggard

    Just found this via @unbelievablejb on twitter, and I thought it was an interesting take on this discussion:

    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/2011/11/13/can-science-solve-really-solve-the-problem-of-beauty/

    • randal

      Fascinating. I’ve always loved John Horgan’s stuff. I loved his book The End of Science (I think that’s the title) and his book on consciousness. He is definitely an out-of-the-box thinker not prone to group-think, atheistic or otherwise.