Schieber, God and Non-God Objects Yet Again

Posted on 07/04/13 96 Comments

Justin Schieber has now provided a response to my criticisms of the Problem of Non-God Objects. He calls it “A response to Randal Rauser’s criticisms of the Problem of Non-God Objects.” (What the title lacks in creativity it makes up in good old fashioned communicative efficacy.) Justin takes on my two points in turn. (If you haven’t read my original article and the two points, click here.)

Here’s his first response:

Randal’s first objection is to perform a kind of Moorean shift. Randal argues that because people believe that God is the creator of the universe (Perhaps by philosophical arguments or revelation etc.), they will be more likely to think that something must be wrong with the argument rather than simply accepting its conclusion.

Essentially, Randal rewrites the argument.  But, because of the deductive nature of the argument, Randal still has work to do.  If the argument is valid, then clearly I must be misunderstanding Randal’s particular nuanced version of God in some important way.  Perhaps P2 or P1 is in error?  The entire point of the argument is that, given this particular way of thinking about God and creation, God can not exist. I hope I can be forgiven for not finding the “But God does exist!” response to be one deserving of more attention.

Justin is dismissive of this first response. He doesn’t think it is “deserving of more attention.” That’s too bad, because I take it he is not just preaching to the choir with this argument. I take it he’d like to try and convince a few theists along the way. Alas, the claim that an omnipotent, perfectly good being can’t exist because if he did then he’d be unable to create anything is, from the perspective of the theist, about as plausible as epiphenomenal theories of mind. (Incidentally, it is no slight to be paired up with G.E. Moore, not least given that I am a Reidean common sense realist.)

But this first rebuttal was, as I said initially, indirect. And it was never intended to bear the weight of a full-on critique. That was reserved for the second rebuttal.

In Justin’s argument “The term ‘GodWorld’ refers to that possible world where God never actually creates anything.” With that in mind, here’s the argument:

P1: If the Christian God exists, then GodWorld is the unique best possible world.

P2: If Godworld is the unique BPW, then the Christian God would maintain GodWorld.

P3: GodWorld is false because the Universe (or any non-God object) exists.

I have several problems with this formulation. I was going to go into them but it will delay us unnecessarily. Instead, I’ll simply restate the argument in terms I find clearer:

P1: If God exists then GodWorld exists.

P2: GodWorld doesn’t exist.

P3: Therefore, God doesn’t exist.

Now why does Justin Schieber think P1 is true? Because in his view GodWorld is greater than any possible world that included God plus some created thing. Schieber explains why in the closing paragraph to his brief rejoinder essay. I’ve taken the liberty of numbering his sentences for ease of reference:

“(1) If we take God to be the ONLY instance of essential and absolute moral perfection, moral grounding and the standard of all possible value, then a world where there exists something ontologically distinct from God is a world where there exists something that isn’t morally or ontologically perfect. (2) A world containing just one non-god object is a world whose overall quality can now be improved as it has been degraded. (3) In GodWorld however, it simply makes no sense to talk about the improvement of absolute ontological perfection.”

I agree with (1). But there are significant problems with (2) and (3).

Let me note some problems. To begin with, Schieber completely begs the question against the theist by assuming that the concept of ontological perfection is incompatible with the property of being creator. Not surprisingly, I know of no theist who would think such a thing.

So what reason does Schieber offer to think this? He assumes two things:

(a) any ontologically perfect being would be obliged by necessity of his nature to actualize an ontologically perfect possible world

(b) any ontologically perfect world would contain only ontologically perfect beings

But I don’t accept either of these claims. Nor do I see any reason to accept them. Both strike me as implausible at best and incoherent at worst. So what Schieber offers is a chain of tendentious claims that no theist should find at all compelling.

What Schieber’s argument illustrates quite handily is that mere logical validity is cheap. Where Schieber should instead focus his efforts is on validity plus premises that are compelling, or at least moderately plausible, to those who do not already accept the conclusion.

 

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  • Reasonable Doubts

    When speaking of ontological perfection of worlds, I am speaking of overall quality. If God alone has the highest quality, then introducing something that isn’t God is clearly a loss in the purity/quality of the world. This isn’t begging the question, that is part of the argument.

    I do not claim (Or I never meant to claim) that ontological perfection is incompatible with being a creator – It doesn’t seem impossible that God could create more of himself – that would preserve the overall purity/quality of the world. I am arguing that the problem is with God creating things that are not ontologically perfect.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      “When speaking of ontological perfection of worlds, I am speaking of overall quality. If God alone has the highest quality, then introducing something that isn’t God is clearly a loss in the purity/quality of the world.”

      Once again, all you do is assert that a possible world in which God created is “clearly” less good than a world in which God didn’t create. But that isn’t clear, certainly not to a theist.

      Indeed, as I suggested, the notion of perfection in possible worlds is arguably incoherent, akin to the concept of “highest number”.

      • jonhanson

        I get the appeal of perfection in possible worlds being incoherent, though I’d say that perfection in possible beings seems as incoherent.

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          Perfect being theologians understand the concept of perfect being to be that being that exemplifies the maximal set of compossible great-making attributes. Thomas V. Morris’ book “Our Idea of God” is a great introduction.

          • Reasonable Doubts

            Been wanting to read that for a while. Just purchased it on Amazon.

          • gatogreensleeves

            Good ’nuff.

      • gatogreensleeves

        I guess the trouble I have with all this is the convenience of non-god objects being afforded ontological “perfection” status (whatever that is), to the point of what appears to be equivocation. Even if we can’t delineate what is “perfect” and what is not because of epistemic limitations, in Christian theology, we ARE informed that *there is some bad STUFF in this world that’s gonna get an eternal whoopin’* What are we to make of that? I agree with Mike D that the use of the word “perfection” is not useful here. The language of maximizing possibility, “best” / “worst” is more useful.

      • Reasonable Doubts

        Randal, if GodWorld is ontologically identical to God sans creation and if there is no source of unique goodness (Goodness outside of and fully independent of God), then we must say that GodWorld is composed entirely of all great-making properties to their maximal compossible degrees.

        Do you agree with this?

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          God/world has what every other possible world has, viz. a being who exemplifies the maximal set of compossible great-making attributes.

          But the subset of possible worlds that are feasible also have a good creation consisting of things like orchids and sunny days, virtuous acts and compassion, beautiful music and passionate lovemaking.

          And there is zero reason for the theist to think that the set of feasible worlds with creation is somehow less because it has a good creation to go along with a perfect God.

          • Reasonable Doubts

            I would rather you answer the question before we move on.

            • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

              That possible world isn’t “composed” of a maximal set of compossible great-making attributes. Rather, God exemplifies the maximal set of compossible great-making attributes and God exists in that world and in every other world.

              However, other feasible worlds also have created goods and provide occasion for the perfect being to manifest his perfection in justice, mercy, etc.

              So there is zero reason for the theist to believe the world where God doesn’t create is somehow greater than the world where he does.

              • Reasonable Doubts

                Ok, well then let me rephrase the question.

                If there is no source of unique goodness (Goodness outside of and fully independent of God), then we must say that GodWorld is composed entirely of the maximal set of compossible great-making attributes exemplified to their maximal compossible degrees.

                Do you agree with this Randal?

                • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                  You keep conflating a maximal state of affairs (GodWorld) with an entity (God).

                  But they’re not identical. One is a possible world, the other is an agent.

                  You should say: God/world would consist only of God and God would exemplify the maximal set of compossible great-making attributes.

                  • Reasonable Doubts

                    No Randal, these are not mutually exclusive categories. You can say there exists a maximal state of affairs (or possible worlds for that matter) and be referring only to an entity. It is entirely legitimate to talk of the state of affairs that is God existing alone (an entity) and nothing else existing.

                    And so I must ask for the third time.

                    If there is no source of unique goodness (Goodness outside of and fully independent of God), then we must say that GodWorld is composed
                    entirely of the maximal set of compossible great-making attributes exemplified to their maximal compossible degrees.

                    Do you agree with this Randal?

                    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                      Justin, your comments here are very muddled. Reference to a possible world is not the same thing as reference to an entity within that possible world, even if the possible world consists only of that entity’s existing. Nor, as you seem to suppose, is the set of great-making attributes exemplified by the entity within that possible world exemplified by the possible world itself. A possible world isn’t omnipotent, for example, because a state of affairs isn’t the kind of thing that can have power to actualize states of affairs.

                      If you want to have any hope of saving your argument you’ll have to de-muddle your thinking and be clear on which truth-descriptions apply to a possible world and which apply to an entity within that world.

                    • Reasonable Doubts

                      I wrote a response to this about a half hour ago. Did it not take?

                    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                      Sorry, I just found a couple of your comments in the spam folder. They’ve now been restored.

                    • Reasonable Doubts

                      Thanks. Generally, they say the same thing.

                    • Reasonable Doubts

                      Ugh, I will try to rewrite it, i suppose it didn’t take.

                      I don’t think my comments were muddled – at least Randal has yet to show this.

                      Obviously I agree with Randal that reference to a possible world is not the same as reference to an entity within that possible world. And, contrary to what Randal suggests, I do not suppose that a possible world can be omnipotent or omniscient – I never said any such thing.

                      Perhaps NOW Randal can get around to answering this slightly altered version of the question I’ve been pressing.

                      If there is no source of unique goodness (Goodness outside of and fully
                      independent of God), then we must say that GodWorld contains the maximal set of compossible great-making attributes exemplified
                      to their maximal compossible degrees and no such properties to any lesser degree.

                      Do you agree Randal?

                      If you aren’t willing to answer this, I am not sure how much more time I can waste here.

                    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                      “If there is no source of unique goodness (Goodness outside of and fully independent of God), then we must say that GodWorld contains the maximal set of compossible great-making attributes exemplified to their maximal compossible degrees and no such properties to any lesser degree.”

                      That’s not quite correct. Instead you should say that God/world contains an entity, God, who exemplifies the maximal compossible set of great-making attributes.

                      That’s surely true.

                      However, every other possible world boasts that same being exemplifying that same set of compossible great making attributes. At the same time, those other worlds (at least the feasible ones) also contain a creation distinct from God that exemplifies additional goods.

                      Consider an analogy with the convention of hedons (= units of goodness) and dolors (= units of badness).

                      In God/World an entity, God, exemplifies an infinite number of hedons.

                      In any feasible world, an entity, God, exemplifies an infinite number of hedons. In addition, there is a non-divine reality that exemplifies x dolors and x+1… hedons.

                      You offer no reason to think God cannot actualize one of these feasible worlds.

                    • gatogreensleeves

                      I would presume the contention is that god intentionally, purposefully creates non-god objects or at least allows them to exist, tolerates them, and exploits them in order to show that even in their presence, his ‘perfection’ prevails, right? Even if this were true, you would still be forcing god to equivocate between to God/World and God/World+. The reason I would think God cannot actualize God/World+ is that he would have the power of veto to prevent the manifestation of evil and it would be his duty to do so, because the “+” exploits beings as *means to ends*.

                      In the context of responsibility Andrew Chignell discusses
                      horrendous suffering of infants in terms god’s responsibility that goes beyond
                      free will defenses. He gives the example of a mother telling a child not to
                      play with matches, knowing full well there is a gas leak and that he probably
                      will play with the matches. Were mother to leave the room with the kid blowing
                      himself up shortly afterward, we wouldn’t expect to absolve the parent by
                      saying, “She was just giving the child his free will.”

                      In the context of allowing non-god objects there is a similar responsibility. Having god allow non-god objects forces him to equivocate between the two scenarios (analogously God/World and God/World+). Hey officer, put your gun away! Your work is done here! Any evil in the world that we encounter is for the greater good and the motivation to stop it is empty deontics.

                      It’s becoming clear, in the same way that so many people are denied a chance to hear about the gospel, this Yahweh is a very inelegant being, with an inelegant plan. Parsimony is a dirty word, but I’m willing to concede that that may just be my reductive and limited mind.

              • AdamHazzard

                However, other feasible worlds also have created goods and provide
                occasion for the perfect being to manifest his perfection in justice,
                mercy, etc. So there is zero reason for the theist to believe the world where God
                doesn’t create is somehow greater than the world where he does.

                So you’re floating a theory that “God” has created a demonstrably imperfect universe, with moral and natural evil, as a means of expressing “his perfection in justice, mercy, etc.” Because if there were no injustice, he could not express his justice, and if there were no suffering, he could not express his mercy.

                Perfection produces imperfection, mercy produces pain, justice demands injustice. Paging George Orwell…

  • http://www.theaunicornist.com Mike D

    To begin with, Schieber completely begs the question against the theist
    by assuming that the concept of ontological perfection is incompatible
    with the property of being creator. Not surprisingly, I know of no
    theist who would think such a thing.

    Well, that just goes to show that the word “perfection” is gobbledygook. It’s a qualitative term, but you’re using it as though it’s quantitative. If you want to define perfection so that it includes still being able to have desires and creative impulse, you can do that. If someone else wants to define perfection to exclude those things, they can do that, too. There’s no universally agreed-upon definition or quantification of the word, so you can just make it mean whatever your argument needs it to mean. Classic apologetic sophistry.

    • jonhanson

      Exactly, pour impure water into pure water and you don’t get water that’s more pure than both, you get impure water.

      • Reasonable Doubts

        An excellent analogy. Essentially, God wouldn’t be engaged in such homeopathy.

        • RonH

          No, that’s not a good analogy at all because you’re mixing the water. God doesn’t mix with creation — they remain distinct things.

          Say a bag of gold coins is worth $1000. A bag of gold coins mixed with a bag of arcade tokens is worth… $1000.

          • Reasonable Doubts

            Sure, but I am talking about overall purity. Overall quality counts the sum quality of all distinct items of a set.

            A bag of gold coins has a set monetary value but the purity of the bag as a whole is a very different question.

            • RonH

              Purity is compromised by mixing. I don’t see the mixing going on when God creates a world.

              • Reasonable Doubts

                See the comment you just replied to. We are referring to the purity of a set of items and whether or not they are mixed is irrelevant.

                • RonH

                  It’s been a long, long time since I took set theory, but I don’t recall “purity” being an attribute of a set. Or sets even having attributes at all, for that matter. Sets just have members. So you could define the set GodWorld to be the set all of whose members contain the “maximal great-making attributes”. This set would indeed consist of God and nothing else. Any set that could include God plus non-God objects would be a different set, but it doesn’t mean anything to me to say that set would be “less pure”. Sets don’t have purity. Can you be more specific about what you mean by this? You’re also using “world” as if it weren’t a set but a composed thing which has attributes of its own. But God isn’t a component of anything, by definition.

                  This feels like one of those arguments where the language of the propositions is smuggling in additional propositions. (And I don’t mean to suggest that you’re trying anything sneaky. I appreciate your tone throughout these discussions. But doing logic with words instead of symbols is much more tricky…)

                  • Oranges

                    When you pour impure water into a cup of pure water, you’re not ACTAULLY mixing anything, I mean at the molecular or atomic level, you’re just adding new atoms to the mix. So “degradation”, if it has ANY meaning at all, has that precise meaning.

                    • Oranges

                      “you’re just adding new atoms to the mix”

                      I meant to the set.

                  • Ripping

                    If what you raise is an objection for Shieber’s argument, then it’s not only an objection to that, but the very Idea of a Maximally Great Being. The objection you raise gets into deep metaphysics, like Bundle Theory, Substance Theory, etc. It seems that you’d i, need to be a mereological Nihilist, or ii, Abandon the notions of “perfection”/”Maximal Greatness” altogether.

                    Is a Glass of Pure water not a set of atoms? Don’t you only add new atoms to the glass by introducing impure water? Are you saying that adding new atoms which are constituents of impure water to atoms which are constituents of pure water doesn’t make impure water? Don’t these atoms also form a set?

                    A World would be a set of all that exists, In Mathematics/Philosophy they call it a Universe. Universes can most certainly be degraded, unless we just abandon the notion of perfection/good/etc, which makes it a peculiar issue to talk about A “Maxmally Great Being”.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      “Well, that just goes to show that the word “perfection” is gobbledygook. It’s a qualitative term, but you’re using it as though it’s quantitative.”

      No perfect being theologian treats perfection as a quantitative term.

      Interestingly, your grounds for saying the concept of perfection is “gobbledygook” is lack of consensus. But by that criterion you can call all of philosophy gobbledygook, including the very criterion you presented.

      Nice way to shoot yourself in the foot hoss.

      • Nate

        It seems pretty clear that Mike’s grounds for saying it’s gobbledygook are not lack of consensus, but rather the unintelligibility of measuring or *quantifying* degrees of a *purely* qualitative term as it occurs in ordinary usage (“perfection”). As I speculated, this would undermine Justin’s argument, but would have the unintentional consequence of undermining the idea of “maximal greatness” upon which perfect being theology depends. That’s just how it seems to me as a non-expert.

        EDIT: Just re-read this. If no perfect being theologian treats perfection in quantitative terms, how can the title “that being which no greater can be conceived” possibly have content? Doesn’t one need an ordering of degrees of perfection to make sense of this concept?

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          I can see how omniscience would be understood quantitatively. But how do you propose goodness be understood quantitatively?

          • Nate

            Randal,

            I don’t. I am trying to understand how the concept of God, defined as the most perfect being, could have propositional content *without* a quantitative measure or without introducing an order on the set of all beings possessing great-making properties. If we can’t order these, that is a problem for the perfect being theologian, not me. I’m tentatively proposing a reductio on the very concept of a greatest being.

    • Nate

      This is what I was getting at in my comment on Randal’s last post. As I framed the problem:

      “concepts of perfection and great-making properties cannot be
      operationalized” … “Justin claims that creating the natural world worsens the world as it is pre-creation, simply in virtue of the world’s not being God and therefore it’s lack of
      maximal greatness. What grounds this assertion? (I think that’s the
      intuition Randal’s car museum analogy is trying to elicit). How do we
      understand the perfection of a world — is it possible to assign
      meaningful (numerical) values to degrees of perfection? Is perfection a simple additive property, or is the calculus more complicated? What are the bearers of perfection — substances (or agents), states of affairs, actions, …? My own perspective is that these defects in the concept of perfection (or of maximal greatness) certainly undermine Justin’s argument. But they do so in virtue of undermining the very intelligibility of meaningfully assigning degrees of perfection to worlds (or whatever), thus undermining the project of perfect being
      theology itself.”

      • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

        A great-making attribute is one which, all things being equal, it is greater to have than lack. Being an agent rather than not being an agent (which entails, among other things, having consciousness and self-consciousness). Having power rather than lacking it. Ergo, having infinite power rather than lacking it. Having infinite knowledge rather than lacking it. Having infinite goodness rather than lacking it. And so on.

        The maximal set of compossible great-making attributes in one agent yields the greatest possible being.

        Sure there is no unanimity on what constitutes a great-making attribute. We’re relying here on intuitions. But then we do that all the time. PBT is no exception in that regard.

    • gatogreensleeves

      One of the things I like to think about in the context of ‘perfection’ in theological discussions in the number of people that will be damned to hell. We know from Mat. 7:13-14 that it is the majority of people. There’s that funny 144,000 number in Revelations for the saved, but what about the damned? More importantly, why THAT number? Is it also a ‘perfect’ number in some way with numerological significance? In any case, the number appears to be perfectly acceptable- literally.

  • Hj Hornbeck

    Hope you don’t mind a longtime RD fan dropping by for a little apologetic fun.

    Alas, the claim that an omnipotent, perfectly good being can’t exist because if he did then he’d be unable to create anything is, from the perspective of the theist, about as plausible as epiphenomenal theories of mind.

    From the perspective of someone living two hundred years ago, cell phones are wildly implausible. If you sit down and demonstrate the theory behind electromagnetic waves, explain modern day chip manufacture and so on, what was implausible becames very much the reverse.

    Likewise, an implausible conclusion may become entirely plausible if you break down the steps and examine them one by one. Hence this argument carries no weight.

    P1: If God exists then GodWorld exists.

    This is a subtle misformulation of Schieber’s original premise, as it implies GodWorld is a logical consequence of God and God alone. Instead GodWorld relies on two premises, the existence of a God with certain properties and the existence of that God before the creation of any non-God object. A Christian arguing for creation must assert GodWorld exists, because otherwise they would admit the existence of a non-created non-God object.

    any ontologically perfect being would be obliged by necessity of his nature to actualize an ontologically perfect possible world

    You are arguing that a perfect being, which strives to maximize greatness, would produce a universe that does not maximize greatness, despite it being capable of doing so? That does not follow from your premises.

    any ontologically perfect world would contain only ontologically perfect beings

    Each being would not have to be ontologically perfect, however the integral of their great-making properties must be equal or greater than all other possible universes to qualify as perfect. Two not-quite perfect beings are inferior to one perfect being in that regard, as the perfection per being is lesser. The same conclusion comes when we change the number of not-quite perfect beings from two to seven billion.

    • Reasonable Doubts

      Well said.

      • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

        Can you explain what is “well said” in those comments? I found the commenter didn’t even understand what your term GodWorld means.

        • Reasonable Doubts

          I actually misread the post early this morning. Oops.

          • Hj Hornbeck

            May I point out that there’s a difference between “well said” and “well understood?” ;)

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      “GodWorld relies on two premises, the existence of a God with certain properties and the existence of that God before the creation of any non-God object.”

      This makes no sense. GodWorld is the possible world where God actualizes no creation at all. So it is by definition incoherent to say a Christian must argue for GodWorld before creation ever existed.

      Why would Justin say your comments were “Well said” when you don’t even understand the terms?

      “You are arguing that a perfect being, which strives to maximize greatness, would produce a universe that does not maximize greatness, despite it being capable of doing so?”

      A perfect being wouldn’t “strive to maximize greatness”. Moreover, this assumption is my take on Justin’s stated assumption, not mine. I challenge the very coherence of the concept “ontologically perfect world”. If Justin disputes this premise he should say so explicitly and explain how his argument goes through without it.

      • Nate

        It intuitively seems very plausible to me that a perfect being *would” strive to maximize greatness. I guess this intuition stems from an even deeper intuition that a perfect being would perform no action that is not the maximally greatest option of all available options. Specifically with regard to an act of creation, it seems totally implausible that it would create anything that manifests any defect. Of course I can’t quite articulate why I believe this must be the case, but I’d like to know why I’m wrong (if I am), and for some principled reason other than it saves the “Moorean” premise that God exists. I’m also operating under the assumption (like Justin is) that it makes sense to order degrees of perfection — which is something you deny. Maybe that’s where the difficulty is.

        • Kerk

          And I’ve always found that intuition incredibly bizarre. Take a master smith. He is awesome at smiting swords. But one day he just feels like making a crappy sword. And he makes it.

          But if you are right, than such a scenario is not possible, because the greater the master is, the stronger should be his inclination to make only great things.

          On a side note, RonH here cleverly pointed out that no one has ever shown that our world is not the best of all possible worlds. If God’s goal was to crate perfection aside from himself, maybe what we have now was the only possible way for him to do it.

          • RonH

            To make a really, really great sword might take a while, though. “Hey, that’s a crappy sword. You’re a lousy smith.” “It’s not finished yet, you know. Make lots of swords, do you?”

          • Nate

            This is one of the pitfalls of philosophical method: disagreement at the level of fundamental intuitions. Your example is really good, but it helps me think this through a little but more. If pushed, I would say that it’s something approaching a necessary truth that an agent is good or “perfect” (speaking in terms of morality, power, knowledge) to the extent that each and every one of his/her/its actions manifest the relevant kind of perfection. A truly ideal master swordsmith (not just a super-duper one) would never form the inclination to make any imperfect sword — and if he did, and carried it out, we would judge him/her/it to be less perfect a smith for that very reason (consider comparing this smith’s work to another’s who has made nothing but “absolutely perfect” swords – how else would you evaluate them?). Of course, I’m taking a concept I’m not sure we have a grasp of anyway — ultimate perfection — and so our intuitions might fail us.

            This is not to say that the perfect smith lacks perfect freedom — he could make a crap sword — but why would he when he could manifest his maximal sword making ability?

            • Kerk

              But why would an ideal smith want to manifest his maximal abilities? What would compel him? Desire for recognition? Obviously God would not care for that.

              Why not just allow him the freedom to make whatever he wishes arbitrarily? I can already see Jeff jumping in and yelling, “If his acts are arbitrary, then he is not a good explanation for our existence!”

              Now we still need to keep in mind that God, being good as he is, genuinely cares about us. You could make an argument that if he really cared, he’d put us in a world with as little suffering as possible. But that is not the same argument anymore, and I have my personal favorite response to that, which has to do with Satan and his powers and freedom of will.

              • Walter

                But that is not the same argument anymore, and I have my personal favorite response to that, which has to do with Satan and his powers and freedom of will.

                Curious. I thought that you were a theist simpliciter and not a Christian theist?

                • Kerk

                  That’s correct. You think a general theist cannot believe that God cares more or less?

                  • Walter

                    No, it just seems odd for a general theist to invoke the existence of Satan.

                    • Kerk

                      I had to give it a long thought through years. I concluded that if I believe that God is good, then the only plausible way for me to explain natural evil is buy addressing it to some powerful malicious being, whom God cannot stop due to free will. Incidentally, it correlates nicely with several key doctrines of Christianity. But that still doesn’t make me a Christian.

              • Jeff

                IF HIS ACTS ARE ARBITRARY, THEN HE IS NOT A GOOD EXPLANATION FOR OUR EXISTENCE!

                • Kerk

                  YES HE IS! STOP IT!

                  • Jeff

                    Ha! Seriously, though, if his acts are arbitrary, doesn’t that take all the wind out of the sails of any cosmological argument?

                    • Kerk

                      Let’s do it again. I have teleology and the PSR. That leads me to think that the universe can be either explained by turtles all the way down, or by a necessary being. Turtles all the way down is unacceptable. Necessary being is just fine. I don’t need to know it’s reasons, I know it’s there.

                    • Jeff

                      Sorry, be back in a bit…

      • Hj Hornbeck

        This makes no sense. GodWorld is the possible world where God actualizes
        no creation at all. So it is by definition incoherent to say a
        Christian must argue for GodWorld before creation ever existed.

        Not at all, though I do apologize for not connecting the dots. It is technically true that GodWorld depends on the two original premises, but you are correct to point out that those two are not sufficient to justify GodWorld; we also need to establish non-creation as a possibility.

        That’s quite easy, provided we add Free Will. I am at the moment typing on a keyboard. This was my choice among several possible actions; going to the bathroom, ordering more books online, sticking my head into a fan, and so on. Were we to instead endorse determinism, I would not have the choice of the bathroom, books, or fan; typing on a keyboard is all I could do. Under free will, I have both the ability to act, and the ability not to act.

        If I have the ability to choose to act, then I must have the ability to fail to act; otherwise, there would be no possibility of choice at all. If it is possible for me to type at this keyboard, yet impossible for me not to type at this keyboard, I have lost my free will. This implies I must be capable of at least two acts, even if those two are only to do one specific action or to not do that action, otherwise I again have no free will.

        Now, time for two more premises: God possesses free will, and God created the universe. From the definition of free will, however, it must follow that God had the ability to not create the universe, at minimum. If we also accept that, we have demonstrated the possible existence of GodWorld as outlined by Schieber.

        Now, you may argue that being unable to do the physically or logically impossible does not count as a loss of free will. That’s a reasonable objection, and I will accept it. In doing so, we’ve created a loophole: if God is constrained to create the universe, we can block the possibility of GodWorld and yet still grant God free will.

        But in so doing, we’ve created a much bigger problem: we now have at least two entities existing before the universe, God and whatever constrains God. If this constraint was created by God, and God possesses free will, then God had the option of not constraining Himself and yet has deliberately created a less-than-perfect state. If it was not, then it must be part of the universe, contradicting the claim that God created the universe.

        We are forced to walk back the reasonable objection, and conclude GodWorld could exist. Again, my apologies for not including that important bit of reasoning.

        Since my reply is getting long, I hope you don’t mind if I break it into several.

  • http://notnotaphilosopher.wordpress.com/ Jason Thibodeau

    If Justin really has begged the question against the theist when he states that ontological perfection is incompatible with being a creator, then he has offered no argument for this claim. One begs the question in an argument against an opponent when one claims something to be true that his opponent has no reason to accept precisely because the opponent rejects the conclusion of the argument. But Justin did not do this. He did not merely claim that perfection is incompatible with being a creator, he provided an argument.

    Randal, you recognize this and admit it to be so when you give his reasons for thinking that a perfect being will not create. Now, you may not think they are good reasons, and you may not think that they are true, but Justin offers them as reasons. So, when he says that perfection is incompatible with being a creator, Justin has not begged the question against the theist; quite the contrary, he has provided an argument.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      Here’s an argument for why I should get your lunch.

      (1) If Randal is smarter than Jason then he should get Jason’s lunch.
      (2) Randal is smarter than Jason.
      (3) Therefore, Randal should get Jason’s lunch.

      There you go. An argument. Not just a claim.

      But alas you have no reason to accept (1) or (2). Nor does any theist have any reason to accept Justin’s premises.

      • http://notnotaphilosopher.wordpress.com/ Jason Thibodeau

        Your argument is valid (we’ll talk about the truth of the premises later) and it does not beg the question of whether Randal should get Jason’s lunch. If that is the question, your argument does not beg the question.

        Nor does Justin’s argument beg the question of whether it is possible for a perfect being to create. He does not assume this conclusion in his argument (it is not an explicit or hidden assumption). It may not be a good argument, but it does not beg the question.

        Your objection is that you don’t think his premises are true. That is fine, but that it has premises that you think are false does not indicate that it begs the question. Justin gave an argument and you need to either show that it is invalid or show that the premises can be reasonably doubted. In your response, you haven’t given any reason to doubt the premises, you just said that Justin doesn’t provide reasons for thinking that the premises are true. Justin’s argument, like all arguments, are not intended to convince us that the premises are true, but that the conclusion is. I bet, if you gave him the chance, he would explain why he thinks the premises are true (indeed, I believe he did so in his recent debate with Scott Smith). Again, you may think those arguments are not convincing, but they are arguments that do not beg the question.

        Back to your argument. I am convinced of the truth of the conclusion. But your second premise is a bit fishy. It is probably true, but I am not yet convinced.

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          How interesting that you’re coy on the premises of my argument. I think they’re false. But I also think the argument begs the question of why a person should accept the premises.

          I have given reasons for believing Justin’s premises are false. I pointed out that a state of affairs where a perfect being and a good creation exists is not of less value than one where only a perfect being exists.

          • http://notnotaphilosopher.wordpress.com/ Jason Thibodeau

            I wasn’t that coy; I said that I thought the second might be true. The first is false but a closely related one is true:

            (1′) If Randal has a more successful blog than Jason, then Randal should get Jason’s lunch.

            In any event, no arguments is supposed to provide support for the premises. Rather, the premises are supposed to provide support for the conclusion. So, your argument does not beg the question of whether Randal should buy Jason lunch.

            Next time I am in Edmonton, I will be expecting a nice vegetarian meal.

  • Jeff

    I think Justin has a really interesting and promising argument going here. But in slight contrast to his, let’s call it, logical problem of non-God objects, perhaps we also can consider the evidential problem of non-God objects.

    Let’s grant for the sake of argument that there is no strict logical contradiction involved with God creating the cosmos. In other words, that God can create non-God objects. Still, the question remains: Why should we expect that God would create non-God objects? I maintain that this is a very puzzling question. Indeed, Randal has been loathe to try to identify any sort of divine motive for the creation of the cosmos, and it’s no wonder why. The best I think the theist can do is to say that God “just does” create, but why should we expect this either?

    • Reasonable Doubts

      While I am sympathetic to evidential arguments, they are always going to be susceptible to a correct use of a Moorean shift. One could say that they have such strong independent reasons for thinking God exists, that this inscrutable reason for creating isn’t that interesting. It could be rephrased like this:

      If the universe exists, God must have had some reason – however inscrutable to us.

      The universe exists

      Therefore, God must have had a reason.

      (This is why I dismissed Randal’s first argument as a failed attempt or a misunderstanding of a Moorean shift. In purely deductive arguments like the one I presented, it doesn’t matter if Randal has 99% certainty as to the existence of God for independent reasons. If the argument is valid, then one needs to reject a premise.)

      • Jeff

        For sure. Like I said, I find your argument very interesting and very promising. Why Randal would absurdly suggest that I’m conceding that your argument fails to have remotely plausible premises, I’m not sure (thanks Ray for setting the record straight).

        What I’m trying to point out is that even if the theist resists one or more of your premises, the theist is in big trouble here. I think the theist has to argue that God’s ostensible motivation for creating non-God objects is inscrutable. And if this is so, cosmological arguments lose all of their force. (Actually this move is much more devastating than that–it becomes meaningless to speculate about divine action at all.) If the theist argues that divine motivations are not inscrutable, then the problem of conceptual incoherence rears its ugly head. What could it mean for a perfect being to have “wants” such as “wanting” to create non-God objects?

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      “Still, the question remains: Why should we expect that God would create non-God objects?”

      Dude, look around, and unless you’re a pantheistic solipsist you’ll find your answer. Actuality determines possibility.

      At least you’re conceding that Justin’s argument fails to have remotely plausible premises. I’ll count that progress.

      • Ray

        Randal. What part of “for the sake of argument” don’t you understand? Jeff is not conceding what you claim, at least not in the post you are responding to.

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          The minute Jeff concedes that God can create something other than God Justin’s argument fails. At that point all Jeff is left with is asking why God would create. But this is irrelevant to the theist who believes God did create. (Just like “Why would Big John throw the keg on the roof” is irrelevant as an objection if one believes he did so.) Nor is this an objection for a non-theist. It would only be an objection if Jeff returned to the confines of Justin’s argument.

          • Ray

            Yes, but he was only conceding that for the sake of argument.

            When I say “Let’s grant for the sake of argument that pigs fly” I am not conceding that pigs fly.

            Compare what Jeff said:

            “Let’s grant for the sake of argument that there is no strict logical contradiction involved with God creating the cosmos. In other words, [let's grant]that God can create non-God objects. Still, …”

            (italics mine, square brackets added for clarity, because you apparently need it.)

            • Jeff

              Thanks Ray. Not sure why Randal would make such an absurd suggestion.

              • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                Ask a silly question…

                • Jeff

                  Silly? As Inigo Montoya would say, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

                • cyngus

                  Randal, I do read very careful your replies. I totally want to see you giving concrete answers, but I feel that you either make up some words, or just avoid to answer because “others-do-not-see-my-point-and-start-talking-about-something-else” tactic.

                  I can read and understand very deep thoughts expressed in English, and every time you give an answer, it goes smooth up to a point where it becomes unintelligible… as if it is supposed to be that way because god is… uh… inscrutable?

                  If so, then god is what you think it is, and what we see is another man creating another god according to his imagination.

      • Jeff

        Dude, look around, and unless you’re a pantheistic solipsist you’ll find your answer. Actuality determines possibility.

        Dude, why do I get the feeling that you wouldn’t be able to follow my argument if your life depended on it? I’m saying that unless and until you can shed some light on why God might choose to create non-God objects, cosmological arguments have absolutely no force whatsoever. In fact, if divine “motivations” are altogether inscrutable, then all arguments of the form divine action best explains x have absolutely no force whatsoever (where x could be consciousness, Jesus’ ostensible resurrection, abiogenesis, fine tuning, etc, etc, etc.)

  • RonH

    I don’t understand “GodWorld”. A “world” consisting of only God isn’t a world at all. It’s just “God”.

    Your argument seems to be that the set containing God is by definition better than the set containing God and anything else. But that’s just rigging your definition to support your conclusion, and I don’t see why it must be true. Or is even likely to be true.

    • Reasonable Doubts

      I am using possible world semantics in which the term ‘world’ can be used to describe any maximally consistent set of propositions. Under this terminology, God existing alone is indeed a possible world and would be recognized as such.

      • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

        Not simply a “maximally consistent set of propositions” but rather a complete description of the way things could have been. So there is at least one world in which God is not creator and that’s God/World.

      • RonH

        Thanks for the clarification. I think I see where I was confused. You say A world composed entirely of the single best possible being existing alone for eternity would be a world composed entirely of all those great-making properties to their maximal compossible degrees and no such properties to any lessor degree. Why is this true? If set A = { 1, 2, 3 }, and set X = { A }, that does not mean set X contains 1, 2, and 3. A has three elements, X has only one. X is not composed of the objects which compose A. It does not follow at all that because a world contains God, the properties of God themselves necessarily belong to that world. But your claim that a world with God plus something else is “less pure” hinges on this being true.

        Can you elaborate on how you’re determining “purity”?

  • TheAtheistMissionary

    I have recently enjoyed listening to Justin flesh out his divine Trinitarian solipsism argument. Correct me if I’m wrong but doesn’t it boil down to a simple assertion: if a perfect being existed, it wouldn’t (by definition) need anything and certainly would not create imperfect beings.

    I should add that this argument wouldn’t do much to rebut the existence of the god of the OT who certainly doesn’t appear to be perfect and in whose image we were supposedly made.

    • Reasonable Doubts

      Not by definition, by circumstance of being the only thing that exists at that moment.

      I don’t see any problem with God existing alongside some crappy planet and then having a desire to create things to improve its quality. My contention is that, if the state of affairs was already maximally great and if all possible goods are already within him, then it is a contradiction to say that he could have external motivation to bring something into existence, especially if that thing isn’t just another version of himself.

      • TheAtheistMissionary

        Thx for the clarification. Let me try this out:
        Premise #1. If Christianity is true, God existed prior in time to the creation of humans (creationist version) or the creation of the first biological replicating antecedent of humanity (evolution friendly version);
        Premise #2. The Christian God is a perfect being, such that there is no positive attribute that He could possess to a greater degree.
        Premise #3. A state of absolute perfection cannot be improved upon by adding anything to it.
        Premise #4. A being in a state of absolute perfection would not desire anything nor seek the addition of anything.
        Conclusion: Christianity is false.
        I can’t see how any Christian can argue with 1-3 so I guess they’ll have to reject 4. Correct?

  • Ray

    Randal

    You seem to be claiming that the world containing only God is no better than the world containing both God and the universe. I still don’t see how this could be, given that “that greater than which nothing can be concieved” is supposed to be the definition of God.

    The argument is as follows:

    P1) The goodness of a world is identical to the greatness of the compound object whose parts are the things that exist in that world. (If you deny this premise, how do you define the goodness of a world?)

    Therefore

    C1) The goodness of GodWorld is identical to the greatness of God.

    C2) The goodness of the world which contains both the universe and God is identical to the greatness of the compound object consisting of the universe and God.

    Taking your premise
    P2) GodWorld is no greater than the possible world consisting of the universe and God.

    along with

    P3) God is the unique thing greater than which nothing can be conceived
    and
    P4) The compound object consisting of the universe and God is at least as conceivable as God.

    We find

    C3) The compound object consisting of the universe and God is an additional object greater than which nothing can be conceived.

    But this violates the uniqueness clause of P3.

    It seems the easiest way out of this mess without denying your premise is to deny P1, but that leaves us without a way of comparing the goodness of various worlds. Isn’t that a problem? What does it mean to say “God is good” if that has no implications regarding the creative acts we are to expect from him?

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      “The compound object consisting of the universe and God is at least as conceivable as God.”

      Ray, your argument is confused. It entails that there are two distinct things than which none greater can be conceived, God, and the state of affairs of God existing.

      You seem to have the same confusion as Justin. God is, among other things, an agent. The state of affairs of God’s existing isn’t an agent. Not only that, but God is an agent who exemplifies the maximal set of compossible great-making attributes. That doesn’t mean that the state of affairs of God’s existing exemplifies the maximal set of compossible great-making attributes. So like I said, this is confused.

      Let’s make this simple. God’s existing alone is not greater than God plus a good creation existing.

      • Ray

        “It entails that there are two distinct things than which none greater
        can be conceived, God, and the state of affairs of God existing.”

        Incorrect. I make the distinction quite clearly in my p1. I’m talking about compound objects, which are most certainly things, not states of affairs, which may not be. So it seems you reject my p1, then, as I predicted. Fine, what do you put in its place. How do you decide whether one state of affairs is better than another? Please note that if you cannot answer this question you literally don’t know what you’re talking about when you say “God’s existing alone is not greater than God plus a good creation existing.”

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          Ray, I take it that you’re a mereologist?

          • Ray

            Are you conceding that mereology demands that if God exists, the actual state of affairs is GodWorld? If not, perhaps you can find a more controversial premise to argue with. If so, what’s you alternative? Are you saying that the object whose parts are “God” and “The Universe” is an incoherent concept?

            And while you’re at it:

            Can you say anything about how you are defining the goodness of a state of affairs other than “God’s existing alone is not greater than God plus a good creation existing”?

            Also, what would a bad creation be? I thought privatio boni was standard in Christian theology. Wouldn’t then any creation be “good” if not maximally “good.” It seems that on standard theological assumptions, your premise is equivalent to “God’s existing alone is not greater than God plus any creation whatsoever existing”

            • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

              I’m not a mereologist Ray. I don’t think there really is an object composed of my finger nail, the planet Jupiter and all the Abba records in Kentucky. And if your objection depends on mereology it ain’t going anywhere.

              • Ray

                Well, I am in no way wedded to the idea that the classical definition of god as “that greater than which nothing can be conceived” must be interpreted according to a mereological semantics.

                That said:
                1) You have offered no other way to interpret the claim that one state of affairs may be better than another (at least in cases where one or both of the states of affairs in question admit the existence of multiple objects that cannot be conceived of as forming a whole.) If all you’re saying is that there is no way to compare the goodness of a state of affairs including God and the universe to any other, well I’m rather unimpressed that you feel there are no contradictions in that view. It’s very easy to form a non-contradictory view if it consists entirely of statements from which no logical deductions whatsoever can be drawn.

                2)Honestly I think non-mereological semantics are rather odd, and smack of the sort of eliminative reductionism that Theists usually criticize (If molecules are made of atoms, then molecules don’t exist? Really?) At the very least, mereology is quite a plausible view, and it would be quite interesting if Classical Theism could be shown to be incompatible with it.

                3) You have not even attempted to answer my multiple questions about what you DO mean by the claim that God prefers to actualize better states of affairs than worse. (Or are you claiming there is no possibility of better and worse states of affairs at all? That would be quite something.) If you continue these evasive tactics, I will maintain the charge that you are attempting to shield your views from having logically contradictory implications by making sure that they have no logical implications whatsoever.

  • Reasonable Doubts

    Randal, I am not sure if I have the right post but there was a series between ‘reasonable doubts’ and you in the comments feed. That exchange involved me continually asking you a question 3 or 4 times. I remember you did eventually answer it and I wanted to return to the post but now I find it missing. Do I have the right post? Did I miss it in my scrolling through?

    If I do, please restore those comments and then feel free to delete this one.

    • epistememe

      yes, this is the correct series you are looking for.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      I don’t know what you mean “restore those comments”. I didn’t delete any comments, if that’s what you’re suggesting. However, if you can recall the substance of the disagreement, we can pick up where we left off.

  • James

    Why don’t you accept claims (a) and (b)? On what grounds do you dismiss them? I’m interested despite the fact that I think you misrepresent Justin’s argument, or at least his assumptions. He refers to the Christian God and its supposed properties not any ontologically perfect being. That assumes a certain set of beliefs about a particular being.

    Does that being actualize its ontologically perfect world? Or is Godworld just God hanging out actualizing only more of itself since non-God objects would degrade its perfection.

    Finally, where in the argument does it state that an ontologically perfect world would contain only ontologically perfect beings? He’s just talking about one distict being THE Christian God. Isn’t it oxymoronic to pluralize ontologically perfect being since in terms we mean the greatest being imaginable?

    Cheers,
    James