Friday, September 5, 2008

BOOK CLUB: The God Delusion, chpt 2.

The thing I am going to pick out from this second chapter is Dawkins's suggestion that whether or not God exists is a scientific question:

Either he exists or he doesn’t. It’s a scientific question; one day we may know the answer and meanwhile we can say something pretty strong about the probability. (p. 70)

Dawkins admits there may be questions science cannot answer. But clearly he thinks this is unlikely to be an example.

What I do like about this chapter is the way that Dawkins shows that, as most people understand “God” (e.g. a superhuman, supernatural intelligence responsible for creating the universe) whether or not God exists is scientifically assessable.

Indeed, Dawkins is surely right to point out that double standards are common here. Give an argument based on science for there being no God and you’ll be hit with, “But the existence of God is not scientifically assessable.” Religion and science are supposedly “non-overlapping magesteria” or NOMA for short.

But as Dawkins says:

You can bet your boots that the scientific evidence, if any were to turn up would be seized upon and trumpeted to the skies. Noma is popular only because there is no evidence to favour the God Hypothesis. The moment there was the smallest suggestion of evidence in favour of religious belief, religious apologists would lose no time in throwing NOMA out of the window.

I’m sure even many religious people would admit there’s some truth to this.

But now to a part I'm not so sure about. My view is that if the suggestion is that Dawkins' God Hypothesis – that the universe was created by a superhuman, supernatural intelligence – is one that only science can decide, well, that would be too strong a claim. I’m not sure Dawkins is making that claim (is he?), at least not here. But, being a philosopher, I’d like to think philosophy has a role to play too.

Dawkins's own central argument is:

Any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution. Creative intelligences, being evolved, necessarily arrive late in the universe, and therefore cannot be responsible for designing it. God, in the sense defined, is a delusion… (p. 52)

This is, indeed, a science-based argument. But other arguments are possible. The problem of evil, for example, is an empirically-based argument. But it’s not really a scientific argument. Rather, it's just an appeal to an obvious, observable fact – the world contains immense amounts of pointless suffering – that appears straightforwardly to falsify the hypothesis that there’s a maximally powerful and good God*. Science can strengthen the argument by pointing out that this suffering has e.g. been going on for many millions of years. But it seems odd to call the basic argument “scientific”. It's no more a "scientific" argument than is, say, objecting to the thesis that Bert is still alive by pointing to his corpse.

[POST SCRIPT: It sounds at least odd to me to class all empirical claims as scientific and all empirical confirmations/falsifications as scientific.

Science, I would think, is something quite specific, with its own specific approach. Sounds odd to say that, when prehistoric, and presumably prescientific, peoples observed that the sun rises everyday and birds fly south in the winter, they were "doing science", or "scientifically confirming" these things. (I'm not even sure they could properly be thought of as scientific claims in this context - though they are clearly empirical).

But in any case I agree the God Hypothesis is empirically, and even scientifically, assessable. I agree with Dawkins about that.]

There are other arguments against the God Hypothesis that are clearly non-scientific. Here’s a simple example: the very concepts of design, agency and deliberate action only get a grip within a temporal setting. But God is outside of time. He is supposedly time’s creator. But then it makes no sense to talk about him designing and creating the universe.

This argument (whether or not a god argument) is not scientific at all – it’s a priori, and based on an unpacking of certain concepts – those of agency, etc. It’s a bit of conceptual analysis. If the very concept of a designer/creator God does not even make sense, then there’s no thesis here for science either to confirm or falsify. In which case, ironically, Dawkins can't scientifically falsify it.

Dawkins, being a scientist, is running a scientific argument against the existence of God. Nothing wrong with that, per se. However, it might be that other, non-scientific arguments, might do the job more effectively.

Certainly, I would not want theists to think that, if the scientific arguments fail, then they are off the hook.

*Note Dawkins' "God Hypothesis" does not add goodness as one of God's attributes. The reason for that, of course, is that his argument will work (if it works) whether God is good or not. The problem of evil, on the other hand, requires that God be good. However, as the hypothesis monotheists actually go with invariably is the Good God Hypothesis, so it is, I'm suggesting, straightforwardly empirically falsified.

86 comments:

Cathy said...

I see your point that some of the objections to the concept of God are philosophical rather than scientific, but since both kinds of argument are based on empiricism and reason, they are closely linked. Also, I just seem to "grok" Dawkin's arguments much more easily than I do yours; I am glad that more than one person is tackling the matter, from more than one perspective, since I imagine this is one of those "different strokes for different folks" situations.

Anonymous said...

I don't think RD discounts philosophy but I suggest that he is claiming any evidence of a material/empirical nature as the being in the realm of science.
The sort of God RD is looking for is one of those that interacts with the material world either by having created it or doing miracles.

Of course science is just a specialist offshoot of philosophy anyway isn't it.

Many theists have also sought material evidence ranging from religious relics to archaeological searches for items/places mentioned in holy texts.

who was it who said...

Swinburne would agree with Dawkins about the relevence of scientific evidence to this question. And note that there are similar philosophical questions that are more obviously of scientific relevence, e.g. do sets exist, and how much evidence for the existence of electrons is QED, and can we do without QM collapses, and so forth...

Re the 3 arguments given, Dawkins' begs the question,
the problem of evil has been answered quite a lot actually (similarly atheists like to say that the problems of intentionality, free will, subjectivity, unity of consciousness, morality and such - especially the last - have been answered, or at least the theistic force of them countered, and that theists should read the literature on it, if they wish to put forward such arguments),
and as for the creation of time, God may be everlasting, as the Open theists believe, although there may be an atemporal notion of creativity, in terms of metaphysical priority (and how many times have I heard physicists say that originally there was nothing, not even time, and then there was the Big Bang?)

anticant said...

How do these physicists know there was "nothing" and then BANG! there was "something"?

This scenario seems as implausible to me as the Creator God.

Time is a human mental construct which enables us to make sense of the sequence of events viewed from the perspective of "past", "present", and "future". But why could not time be an endless loop, and the universe everlasting, regardless of whether or not God exists?

This concept is far less mind-boggling than the notion of "nothing".

wombat said...

"...heard physicists say that originally there was nothing, not even time, and then there was the Big Bang?)"

An unfortunate figure of speech. I suspect it really only works backwards.
That is to say within our universe you have time so it is OK to say things like "before","then" and "after" within our Universe. You can keep saying "before" until you get to the BB at which point there isn't any more "before".

Probably best to let them keep the description for a while at least until we get a decent vocabulary for some of the weirder directions.

Anonymous said...

Actually the universe might have arisen from random quantum fluctuations because the net energy of the universe turns out to be zero (the positive energy of matter is balanced by its negative gravitational energy). This led the founder of inflation theory Alan Guth to deem the universe "the ultimate free lunch". By the way how did Stephen manage to break both his collar bones?! (Sorry I'm new here!)

The Barefoot Bum said...

The problem of evil, for example, is an empirically-based argument. But it’s not really a scientific argument. Rather, it's just an appeal to an obvious, observable fact – the world contains immense amounts of pointless suffering – that appears straightforwardly to falsify the hypothesis that there’s a maximally powerful and good God*.

Why do you say this isn't a scientific argument? It's not a particularly difficult scientific argument, but it's a completely scientific argument.

We have an hypothesis, "There exists a being 'God' such that 'God' is maximally powerful and good."

We have a simple scientific theory that consists of an hypothesis and an analytic definition.

We have an analytic definition of what it means to be powerful and good, that entails observable consequence: "If a maximally powerful 'God' exists, we would observe no unjustified suffering."

Since we do in fact observe unjustified suffering, either the hypothesis or our analytic definition must be false.

You have a theory with an hypothesis and analysis that can be (and actually is) falsified by observation. What more do you demand from science?

As Zombie Feynman notes: "Experiment [i.e. observation] is the core of science. The rest is bookkeeping."

The Barefoot Bum said...

(sorry for the errors, and for quoting from memory. The exact quotating is, "'Ideas are tested by experiment [i.e. observation].' That is the core of science. Everything else is bookkeeping")

Stephen Law said...

Hi BB. well just because a claim is empirical and empirically confirmed/falsified doesn't nec mean it is a scientific claim and scientifically confirmed/falsified, does it?

I don't think many scientists would consider their belief there's a cheese sandwich in the fridge a scientific claim, or their now opening the door and seeing it scientific confirmation. For science I suspect you need a bit more. But, look, if that's how people want to use "science", fine, just so long as we are clear.

wombat said...

Well the "unjustified suffering" is rather more tha a single instance of a cheese sandwich . There is a huge amount of data. Lots of suffering, lots of different types of it,observed over extended periods of time.

The belief in the cheese sandwich is being confirmed by a direct observation of the snack. Unlike the good God hypothesis which actually predicts something which indirectly confirms or disproves the hypothesis.

Greg said...

I know that discussion is moving on, but I just wanted to point out that I added a comment to Stephen's last post in which I clarify what I would like to see from Rev. Sam with regards to stating the content of his theism. Other theists (esp. "sophisticated" theists) are welcome to respond as well.

Papilio said...

anonymous:

I thought I was reading my own words when I read your comment. Aside of the remark about our host's collar bones, I have written the same almost word for word. Spooky eh? Of course, some folk will wonder how on earth a quantum fluctuation can come out of nothing... they include me, but I (vaguely) understand the process.

The concept that there is no time 'before' the big bang is one that is met with by blank looks whenever I have said so to Jehovah's Witnesses at the doorstep. Time started at this point, I say. But what was there before? They reply. There was no before, I say. The collision of branes in n-dimensional space is troubling to my visitors, but the concept of a dude with a long white beard chucking lightning bolts about and starting things off that way is OK.

Jackie said...

Stephen,
Are you implying that if the claim isn't scientific, it's philosophical? I don't think your example of a cheese sandwich in the fridge is either. Claims about the existence of distinct things, like the cheese sandwich in the fridge, are more like statistics to me. Philosophy deals with what is logically possible. I would give Science the theories of how the universe works and the existence of types of things, like species or black holes. In fact, if a god were to exist, I would consider it it's own species or type of thing, like a black hole. So by that logic (note: the classifications of claims is a philisophical problem,) the existence of gods is a scientific claim.

Jackie said...

After giving it more thought, I think that the existence of a god is a scientific claim, but whether a god with certain aspects could exist can be adressed by science and philosophy. If we find that god X could not logically co-exist with this universe, then we have answered a scienific question through philosophical means.

Paul P. Mealing said...

I’m not surprised that Stephen has raised this point about science and philosophy. I thought of raising it myself earlier, but the discussion went off in another direction.

If you replace religion with philosophy, then I believe there is a distinction between science and philosophy. Stephen has said elsewhere that there are questions that science can’t resolve (answer), though he was talking about mirrors at the time. Philosophers attempt to answer some of these questions with philosophy and theologians attempt to answer them with religion. So I think there is a clash between ‘atheist’ philosophy and ‘theist’ philosophy, rather than a clash between science and religion or science and philosophy.

Regarding the idea of ‘God’, there is another view that most people, both atheists and theists, find too bizarre to contemplate: that God is the end result of the universe rather than its progenitor. What philosophers call ‘God as a process.’ But this concept of God resolves the problem of evil.

Regards, Paul.

jeremy said...

Dawkins was once asked to justify his statement that a universe with a god would be different from a universe without a god EVEN if such a god is undetectable, and he gave an interesting (informal) reply.

You can read it here - thought it might be of interest. If I read him correctly, his point is actually rather banal, but I think it helps explain why he views the God Hypothesis as a scientific one, in principle at least (although I suspect he would agree with BB that whether or not there is a cheese sandwich in the fridge is a scientific claim too).

Sam Norton said...

Stephen, you say "The problem of evil, for example, is an empirically-based argument. But it’s not really a scientific argument. Rather, it's just an appeal to an obvious, observable fact – the world contains immense amounts of pointless suffering – that appears straightforwardly to falsify the hypothesis that there’s a maximally powerful and good God*."

It seems to me that you've got an evaluation embedded in the empiricism here. That is, I'm not sure that 'suffering' is a straightforwardly empirical matter. It would be simpler if you dropped the 'pointless' adjective, but even without that I think you've got a two-stage process here - a) there is a great deal of phenomena of a certain kind, b) that phenomena is suffering. I think a) is empirical, I don't think that b) is, at least not in the same way.

(NB I don't think this invalidates your argument, because I don't think b) is generally contentious - though I think there are religious perspectives which disavow it, eg which teach that all suffering is illusory. Which reinforces my point.)

Sam Norton said...

PS I don't see the existence of God as an empirical matter, but I'm going to re-read chapter 2 before commenting further.

Stephen Law said...

Hi Jackie. No I don't think that there is a cheese sandwich in the fridge is a philosophical claim either.

It just sounds at least odd to me to class all empirical claims as scientific and all empirical confirmations as scientific.

Science, I would think, is something quite specific, with its own specific approach. Sounds odd to say that, when prehistoric, and presumably prescientific, peoples observed that the sun rises everyday and birds fly south in the Winter, they were doing science, or scientifically confirming these things. I'm not even sure they could properly be thought of as scientific claims.

Similarly, I guess I am slightly uncomfortable about calling the God Hypothesis a scientific claim. But it certainly is empirically, and even scientifically, assessable. I agree with Dawkins about that. And that's the key point here.

Ultimately this is a trivial semantic disagreement between BB and myself.

It just depends what you mean by "science".

Stephen Law said...

Hi who was it who said. You said:

the problem of evil has been answered quite a lot actually.

Inadequately, yes. See my The God of Eth if you want my take on that.

Physicists don't really think there was a "before" the Big Bang, of course.

I don't think any of the problems you list have nec. been solved. But that's no reason to suppose theism solves them!

bigbadbob said...

Im interested in the cheese sandwich problem. Because the cheese sandwich can be identified and observed by a philosophically empirical method ( whose styles of knowledge reflect a scientific empiricism )

The problem with the contemporary god debate seems to be that most sophistry theists are not proposing a discrete observable substance which could be falsified by any type of empirical observation - as an olympian god might quickly be
in an argument something like

- it wasn't athena/zeus/hermes
- because it probably didn't happen-its just a story
- and if it did it was the wind/tide/electron
what did it.

But the problem remains because the contemporary theologians have no interest in the olympian dieties . They are quite adamant : god is nothing like a cheese sandwich. I mean where is the substance to what they are maintaining ? Is there a glass of god to go with your sandwich - like their is an electron to go with the uncertainty principle.

Because of such complicated assertions that god is both subject and object - or an unidentifiable identifiableness ( to coin a suitable new paradoxical description ). The the arguments about god then seem to go up to the highest possible level of empirical argument - a sort of reasoned empiricism where we are deducing if there really could be something which we cant directly identify.

Is it really wise to keep calling arguments at this high level empiricism ? Is it not an atmospheric level where empiricists are struggling to breath and theologians are trying to fix their gasmasks.

But returning to Dawkins and the olympians. My impression is that dawkins is arguing against the olympians and trying to rope all religions into the same expose. Some people buy this but not the sophisticated theists. We move up and try and stabilise our argument in the highest and most etheric regions of philosophical empircism.

stop me if i make no sense

and tell me - if I am going to put on a wooly jumper of god to keep warm - what is the most substantial and least ridiculous type on offer ? I know J.A.T.Robinson Fashions used to do a nifty line in Panenthiest style Jumpers.

But recently in a stylish shop called " Intangibles " Ive seen a Derrida God Jumper ( by the Caputo label ) and this morning I saw about a Praxis God Jumper ( but Im not sure of the make ) - anyone know of any others ? Sam ?

who was it who said...

Sam - God is an empirical hypothesis because if God appears to some they know that God exists, and if he does not then quite often they do not know. They won't necessarily know that he is God, or how to define "God" perfectly, but so what?

wombat said...

Stephen - "Similarly, I guess I am slightly uncomfortable about calling the God Hypothesis a scientific claim."

Sorry to belabour this but I think there is a fundamental difference between the cheese sandwich belief and the God Hypothesis. This is that there is a level of deduction necessary. The existence of evil is observed but disproves the existence of (particular type of) God because it disproves a result concerning a conclusion which is deduced from the premises about God.

True enough the simple statement "God exists" taken in isolation would not seem to qualify but the same could be said of any assertion of that form. As soon as we start taking "God" to mean something though we get all the properties associated with it. RD tries to pin down what some of those properties are and show that they are accepted by a large proportion of religious people.

If you like the cheese sandwich belief is a bare premise. The God Hypothesis is the full syllogism.

If you were to deduce the existence of the cheese sandwich from some observable about the fridge (without being able to open it) wouldn't that qualify as science?

Watching mice continually try to break into the fridge but not another similarly shaped box might be a start - not conclusive in this case but supportive if you claim that (i) mice really go for cheese sandwiches. (ii) mice have much keener senses than humans.

who was it who said...

wombat - good points: I should say that God is a family of empirical hypotheses.

Stephen - so you agree that Dawkins' argument begs the question? Lots of arguments in this area do, of course (notably Plantinga's self-styled "successful" Ontological argument).

Barefoot Bum - your argument requires that you show empirically that some actual suffering is not actually justified. That may seem obvious, but is it? Take the holocaust for example. Sure that was wrong of Adolf Hitler etc. And sure we would not have wished such on Anne Frank etc. But do we really know enough to know that there was no justification?

Suppose we existed before we were born here - that we are essentially souls is unrefuted empirically since the apposite physical closure (randomness of the quantum mechanics within living brains) required to refute that hypothesis has not been demonstrated yet).

And suppose we chose to be born here, knowing full well what might happen. Then that it did could have been justified - just as if we had chosen to go on an adventure holiday knowing of the risks (indeed, going because of them). (If we got into terrible trouble on our holiday, we would want to be rescued, but then, if we are essentially souls such rescue could take the form of our dying.)

A good reason for us to have rationally choosen to be born here is certainly conceivable - there are several possibilities - e.g. the excitement (knowing that we will certainly not be stuck here!), or the chance to exercise our free wills in ignorance and depravity (Swinburne thinks that a good thing, and can you show that he is wrong?), or the chance to empirically investigate the uniqueness of the maximally powerful and good God who created us first in Heaven (that one I saw here), and so forth...

Stephen Law said...

Hi who was it. no i have not said it begs the question. perhas it does. but why do you think so.

I think my cheese sandwich example probably was not good. Because you just see the sandwich, rather than infer it. But the point I was trying make is OK, I think. If Bert disappears behind a tree then comes out the other side, my belief that he continued to exist behind the tree is not really a "scientific" belief nor wuld I say it is "scientifically" confirmed. But hey, if you want to use use "scientifically" as a synonym for "empirically", that's fine by me.

who was it who said...

Stephen, re:

Any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution.

The question is whether or not God (say, the deliberate creator of this universe) exists. If he exists either timelessly or else everlastingly and essentially immutably (in his character), then not all creative intelligences arise as the end product of such a process (and the complexity might then be quite low too). Dawkins' empirical evidence will be for all brainy (or biochemically functioning) intelligences...

anticant said...

All of the above points up the obvious fact that every religious person, either individually or in groups, has their very own "make your own God" set which is infinitely malleable, like plasticene.

You never know what you are likely to find in their celestial fridge - why not a heavenly cheese sandwich, or a flying spaghetti monster? Trying to pin God down is like hunting the Snark - he turns out to be a Boojum and the hunter vanishes into incoherent incomprehensibility.

The great P.T. Barnum had an infallible way of luring [dis]satisfied customers out of his show with the inscrutable sign "This Way to the Egress". Thinking they were going to view the most fabulous of all creatures, they found themselves out on the street.

Rather like religion, really. The real mystery is that there IS no mystery.

bigbadbob said...

A passing thought on sophistry :

The greatest line of mystifying I have ever read :
" the dao that can be name is not the eternal dao" - and so begins the foundational work of daoism.

The interesting thing about this is that the Dao De jing is written in a period of intellectual confusion - the warring states - it is not a means for championing one world view but rather a means of weaving between them - as one friend insisted arguing with the D.D.J is like trying to fight with water.

While we europeans squabble over our dominate view - arranging our new meta narratives like a housewife about to have visitors - traditionally the chinese we happy to interlock conceptual approaches for their practical value: daoism for the home , confucism for work and buddhism, well good for funerals and ceremonies.

While I am happy to play in the room called Empiricism does anyone play anywhere else - does anyone else really see this as nothing more than a reflection of our contemporary culture - does it occur to anyone else that blog is really just a historic curio waiting to happen - for me this blog can be viewed as much a means of discovering what type of thinking our academic society authorises - as anything else.

If there are names to throw at me for saying this - please tell me - I will then be able to discover myself further through Wikipedia...

but finally to my point :

Regarding the chinese reaction to miraculous christianity - mentioned by stephen - true they would think it is weird - but the only thing they would think is weirder is its historic exclusiveness. A similar exclusiveness to Dawkin's arrant atheism.

Europeans want to know - traditionally orientals and illiterate pre-industrialised europeans might have been more interested in having the knack. I seem to remember a machine workers conversation on nightshift in a bolton factory about the evolution of greek society as a justification for the specialisation and stratification of labour. The two nightshift workers conversed over this at there cigarette break before returning to operate their machines.

An industrialised and technological culture built on empiricism seeks its own kind of truth. I am keen to find out what that is and can be.

Billy said...

[POST SCRIPT: It sounds at least odd to me to class all empirical claims as scientific and all empirical confirmations/falsifications as scientific.


Yeah, I get fed up hearing christians talk about how it is science against faith. I' not scientifically proving their existence as I am talking to them.

Of course the biblical god hypothesis is testable - prayer, healing , prophecy and charismatic gifts. Their god is a supposedly relational one.

anticant said...

For some of them, it's more a case of faith against science. But of course none of them can get by without the achievements of science - even the most fundamentalist don't eat, drink, travel, keep warm etc. etc. by the power of prayer, do they?

Science is solid. Faith is all smoke and mirrors.

The Barefoot Bum said...

Ultimately this is a trivial semantic disagreement between BB and myself.

It's certainly a disagreement over semantics. I'm astonished, however, that a professional philosopher would consider the semantics of a such an important idea as science to be trivial.

I think your colleague Steve Gimbel might agree with me.

Regardless of its importance, it's probably a discussion that would be better pursued at a more opportune time.

bigbadbob said...

Billy where is the line between scientific argument and empirical philosophical argument ? When do you know you are using one and not the other ?

A randomised control trial for miracles healing and prayer sound greats - but even the god of the new testament seems choosey about just where and when he flashes his goods - they seem to be subject dependent not public exhibitions.

As such if we cannot isolate who is really praying and who really has faith how can we falsify it ? The argumental factors cannot be isolated for comparison and I think - although I would love to read more about it if anyone has any links - that such isolation is neccesary for an empirical test.

It may all be smoke and mirrors but is it falsifiable smoke and mirrors ?

who was it who said...

Anticant - similarly, every scientifically minded human has their own "make your own real stuff" set, which is endlessly tweakable. Dawkins compares the supernatural with the natural, and is his natural world the world around us, of trees and rocks and stuff? But that is a phenomenal construct, of course. The real physical world is much weirder, 10-dimensional strings and such (or whatever your favourite particle theory is).

Much less solid (so to speak). Many of us begin to object to the religious view with a science that is basically applied common sense (as on Evolving Thoughts blog), but must then face the fact that although common sense implies the scientific worldview, the latter contradicts the former. So much the worse for common sense, Russell said. But also, so much for that objection to religion. Sorry anticant, but the real world is a bit complicated (as science shows us).

none of them can get by without the achievements of science - even the most fundamentalist don't eat, drink, travel, keep warm etc. etc. by the power of prayer

We all live by agriculture and engineering nowadays, as we have for thousands of years, which shows how little such things have to do with the modern scientific worldview, especially its metaphysical details, such as its predominant atheism.

Many philosophers seem to think that the successes of modern science are evidence for the consistency - not to say the truth - of set theory, because all scientific modela are mathematical, and standard mathematics is built up from set theory nowadays. But of course, plenty of other foundations are possible. That we have set theory is a historical accident

anticant said...

Yes, but the scientific stuff - whether "common sense" or not - is real; the 'supernatural' stuff only exists as a mental projection of the believer and is totally unverifiable.

wombat said...

who was it who said...

Well yes there are some admittedly weird counter intuitive things going on in the world or at least in theories about the world. But the theories at least must stand certain tests such as internal consistency and compatibility with current observations, even before we invest time and effort in checking by further experiment whether they can be falsified.

We also require that they fit in with the familiar world. By this I mean the sort of stuff you can observe without advanced instruments such as electron microscopes, particle accelerators or unpleasantly high or low temeratures. This is the world which shapes our "common sense" after all so, at least in one way even the most ooutlandish theories must be compatible with the "common sense world".
Many versions of the religious view start out by trampling on this with miracles, intercessory prayer, transsubstantiation etc. then fail the tests of consistency by their own measures.
How is it that a religion which ostensibly preaches compassion can give rise to some of the vilest theodicies (e.g. Swinburne)?

anticant said...

Because the compassion is all self-regarding Little Jack Horner stuff - "Oh what a good boy am I".

wombat said...

"We all live by agriculture and engineering nowadays,"

Not many in the West do. Sure we live on the fruits it, but few of us do it. Most of us just try to look busy and hope the farmers and blacksmiths don't spot they don't really need us...shhh!

Spherical said...

Stephen:

Two questions if I may:

1. If evil is the problem, more specifically the amount of it, and your argument is why does a good God allow so much, how do you quantify that? How do you measure the evil in this world and say that it outweighs the good?

2. Let's assume that you could measure it and it did outweigh the good. In order for a good God to lessen the amount of evil, wouldn't he in fact have to lesson our freedoms? And if so, under what limits might we be expected to exist if such is the case?

Anonymous said...

Spherical,

Why would the amount of evil in the world matter. The fact that there is any at all is the problem.

"In order for a good God to lessen the amount of evil, wouldn't he in fact have to lesson our freedoms?"

If God can't come up with a way to completely eliminate evil without lessening our freedom, then in what way can he be considered all powerful? And if there is some set of rules that even God must follow, then how did they come about? I thought God is supposed to encompass everything and exist eternally.

Spherical said...

Perhaps that is just my understanding of the arguement, and maybe Stephen can clear that up for me. I read in The God of Eth...

"The argument is called the problem of evil, and runs roughly as follows: if God is both all-powerful and all-good, why is there so much suffering in the world?"

I interpreted "so much" to mean that a certain amount of evil would be acceptable, but the problem is that we have too much. Also, in The God of Eth, much of the argument seems to center on the fact that it is the amount of good that is the problem. GIZIMOTH: If the universe was designed by an all-powerful, all-evil God, then why is there so much good in the world?

If the problem is that there is any evil at all, that is a different, so please, clarify!

"And if there is some set of rules that even God must follow, then how did they come about? I thought God is supposed to encompass everything and exist eternally."

Good question. Is it possible that God sets up limitations for Himslef? And if so, why would he? Goes to the old question, "If God can do anything, can he make a rock so big that He cannot lift it?"

--O

Anonymous said...

I think that Stephen's argument emphasizes the amount of suffering to show that even if we accept some of the rationalizations for why there is any at all, there still seems to be too much of either good or evil (depending on if you're from Earth or Eth) for any of these justifications to be anywhere near satisfactory. When the same argument can be reversed to support an opposite conclusion equally as well, that should make anyone stop and rethink.

This is the problem of evil as stated by Epicurus, "Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to. If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, but does not want to, he is wicked. If God can abolish evil, and God really wants to do it, why is there evil in the world?"

The problem comes down to why would we expect any evil at all if we are to believe that God is both omnibenevolent and omnipotent? These characteristics just aren't supported by observable reality.

Paul P. Mealing said...

Evil is a perversion because only humans can perform evil acts and convince themselves they are for the greater good. We are the species who has reason, or taken reason to a level that other species don’t have, so only we, as a species, can do that. If another species attacks something or kills something, it doesn’t have to rationalise it.

God is an internal experience, a projection if you like, so people often evoke God to rationalise the evil they commit. Other people evoke God to rationalise compassion, so God is in the eye of the beholder, and can be evil or good, dependent on the believer. The point is, even the people who evoke God to rationalise their acts of violence, believe their God is good, which is the ultimate perversion.

At the end of the day, and the argument, God is a subjective experience, that says more about the person who has the experience than who or what God is. Karen Armstrong talks about this, and makes the distinction between one view of God being egotistical and the other being egoless, and I think that’s an important distinction to make.

There is no evidence that God exists outside the mind. But there is neurological evidence that people who have the experience feel it disassociated from the self. Helen Phillips in New Scientist (1 Sep.07), while discussing religion in an evolutionary psychology context, cites brain imaging experiments done by Andrew Newberg at University of Pennsylvania that supports this. Of course, this doesn't validate someone's religious beliefs any more than brain imaging of neuron activity validates what someone is thinking. She explains it in more detail, but it's scientific verification of religious experience as some people report it. The interesting thing is that the evidence shows that not everyone experiences it.

Regards, Paul.

bigbadbob said...

last anonymous,

can ask what is the substance of god - are we talking about something which is everything that is not a thing - is god's unverifiabilty not a dissapointment but a mind blowing neccesity ?

Sorry to labour on about what god might be. But it is obvious that If god is good is a completely different question from is there a god.

If indiana jones and the temple of doom is anything to go on , people have believed in some nasty sorts of god . You could argue we might need to switch our idea of god to being a little more destructive - shiva like. A good god may be simply the anthropomorphism of a finite intelligence. Indeed the idea of god anticant may not simply be a mental projection. It may be what is left when those mental projections cease.

As the christian tradition states that "all things work together for good to them that love god" - St Paul in romans if i remember my sunday school lesson correctly. So you can argue christianity perceives "evil" as fundamentally non-existant - it something which disapears in a transcendental holism. Indeed if you take jesus' prohibative not to judge , literally you can get approach a buddhist like perception of non duality.

Good and Evil are human constructs and have little to do with God. Good is a set of thing . Evil is a set of thing. But God is not a set ?

Sam could you expand on your idea of sets ?

Anticant can i suggest both comfort-blanket-gods and head-shrunk-atheism are for people who like to know the answer. Is Stephen's quick and brisk empircal method where things are "pretty simple really " not merely unabashed anthropomorphism - in a Heraclitean sense.

Stephen Law said...

Hi spherical

I don't need to quantify it mathematically. Compare the evil God hypothesis. It clearly is straightforwardly falsified by the the quantity of good in the world, despite the fact that good is not quantifiable either. It remains clear that there's just too much!

No God wouldn't have to lessen our freedoms to significantly reduce the amount of suffering, such as that caused by natural disasters, hundreds of millions of years of animal suffering, etc.

Stephen Law said...

PS the problem - in the evidentially problem of evil - is the quantity. That there is any at all is called the logical problem of evil. I am not running that myself, though anon can.

anticant said...

Paul has summed up my basic position in a nutshell. Each of us creates his or her own god or - if you like - guiding star. Whether you call it 'god' or not, it is immanent in each one of us.

Whether a god, or gods, exist as an objective external entity is another matter entirely. So far as scepticism about the "supernatural" is concerned, it isn't about liking to know the answer - it's about discerning what, on the balance of the available evidence, is probably nonsense.

Believing in nonsense unnecessarily creates more intellectual and practical problems for oneself and everybody else. You have only to look around the world today, and see what is being done in the name of religion, to know this is so.

wombat said...

bigbadbob

"...comfort-blanket-gods and head-shrnk-atheism are for people who like to know the answer."

No - comfort-blanket-gods are for ones who like to stop asking questions when they get to something they are comfortable with. Dunno if "head-shrnk-atheism" does the same.

Billy said...

Big bad bob said

Billy where is the line between scientific argument and empirical philosophical argument ? When do you know you are using one and not the other ?


Why does there have to be a definate line? However, I would say that if it is measurable and open to experimental falsification, it fall within the scope of science.

God either heals amputees or he does not. It is an easily designed experiment, get groups of amputees and pray over half and not the other and see how many limbs grow back.

If you claim god is choosy about how he heals, I'm going to have to ask you to demonstrate that position without presupposing he exists. In other words, you will have to show god exists. Even if you were right about him being choosy, at the end of the day, you still have no evidence that god exists, since you cant actually show that he is choosy

wombat said...

re scientific vs empirical philosophy.

You can tell by which journal publishes your paper.

Anonymous said...

Re: Papilio's comment (12th ish).
Yes I really have no better use of my time then to copy out other blogger's comments and pass them off as my own. It's a very popular scientific theory that I read in a book by Alan Guth- I was trying to contribute to the thread and was unaware that you had made a similar contribution before (possibly because as I pointed out in my original post I'm new here). I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive this unabashed plagiarism.

Sam Norton said...

Hi Stephen,

I want to pursue the comment I made above, with respect to you saying "The problem of evil, for example, is an empirically-based argument."

On further reflection I think the evaluation comes at a different stage, ie your argument is, I think:

1. There is a vast amount of pain in the world (I think pain is an empirical phenomena)
2. This pain is a bad thing
3. The presence of so much badness is incompatible with the existence of a maximally good God etc.

I don't think 2. is an empirical judgement, so I'm not sure you can say that the problem of evil is empirically based (unless by that you simply mean part 1.)

What's interesting is that I don't just disagree with 3 (because of the assumptions about the divine nature) but point 2. is also debatable, and not just by Eastern cultures. Bonhoeffer, for example, famously begins his 'Ethics' with this: "The knowledge of good and evil seems to be the aim of all ethical reflection. The first task of Christian ethics is to invalidate this knowledge."

I want to ponder this further (and I'm about to be off-line for a few days as I'm on retreat) but I suspect it's one of those things that you referred to re: the Lash book, the fundamental assumptions are really very divergent.

Stephen Law said...

Hi Sam
You wrote:

"Your argument is, I think:

1. There is a vast amount of pain in the world (I think pain is an empirical phenomena)
2. This pain is a bad thing
3. The presence of so much badness is incompatible with the existence of a maximally good God etc.

...

Sam continues: What's interesting is that I don't just disagree with 3 (because of the assumptions about the divine nature) but point 2. ...I suspect it's one of those things that you referred to re: the Lash book, the fundamental assumptions are really very divergent."

Stephen's reply. Obviously pain is not always a bad thing. But are you suggesting it is never a bad thing?!

This type of move is also reversible, of course, a la my The God of Eth (see sidebar). Can't you just imagine Booblefrip also trying this:

"In addition, you assume pleasure is good thing. But I disagree. You see, here we have divergent fundamental assumptions!" in order to defend the Evil God hypothesis and deal with the problem of good.

At which most of us will roll our eyes, anticipating the next heavy load of ingeniously woven cobblers from Booblefrip that we will then have to patiently unravel.

How plausible is this move coming from Booblefrip, do you think?

Despite the fact that Booblefrip can clearly carry on with this sort of malarky for ever, isn't it perfectly obvious that the problem of good is fatal to belief in an evil God?

wombat said...

Sam "I don't think 2. is an empirical judgement, "

I am not sure that Stephen actually said "pain" in isolation like that. We're talking about manifestations of or symptoms of evil. Bad stuff. Pain, suffering, deprivation, anguish, cruelty etc. in a bad way. Not as part of some game where you get a little electric shock when you are last hitting the button or sports injuries or as part of some consensual S&M game.
The sort of stuff that is by definition evil.

Don't try to wriggle out of it by narrowing the definition or claiming "well some people quite like it".

In any event the issue can be rendered empirical, using the methods of statistics and behavioral pschology. Carry out a survey or two using one of those standard assesment tests. Ask people questions like "Rate X on a scale 1 to 7. 1 is good, 7 is bad"
Try it on people who have experienced X (assuming they live) as well as just hearing it described. Try it as an indirect question "If someone else experienced X...". All sorts of permutations to eliminate biases etc. Lots of different people. A big sample.

What results do you think you'd get?

Or maybe being left by your father to be nailed to a cross to die while he watches isn't such a biggie after all.

anticant said...

Sam says:

Bonhoeffer, for example, famously begins his 'Ethics' with this: "The knowledge of good and evil seems to be the aim of all ethical reflection. The first task of Christian ethics is to invalidate this knowledge."

What does this mean? That only Christians are qualified to define what is good and what is evil?

Sounds like a load of old cobblers to me.

Big Bad Bob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Big Bad Bob said...

That duality is somehow illusionary ? Events are not good or evil , it is purely our anthropomorphism which says they are ? Maybe he means that you need to start looking from the outside in and forget about looking from the inside out - kenotic ( self emptying ) ethics - as seen in christianity and some eastern religions are a means to this end.

The exact detailing of this idea of non-duality is different in different religions - they start from different linguistic foundations and have to construct their explanations in different ways.

Disciples talk about being enlightened or beatified of perceiving the world as a whole. I would say that this is an empirical experience of a slightly more attractive nature than Stephen's petty there-isn't-a-god-because-i didn't-get-enough-toys-for-
Christmas.

It might be old cobblers to you anticant - but probably anything which doesnt' leave you in a position of knowing is - as someone has said not everyone is capable of this empty perception.


I've outlined these ideas in an letter:
http://www.scribd.com/doc/5569929/pomocross

for anyone who is interested in the ideas of non-duality inside the christian tradition ....

anticant said...

Why do Christians always imagine that critics of Christianity know nothing of Christian theological and mystical writings?

Please don't assume things about me, bbb. I am not questioning the validity of personal spiritual experience and growth - I incline to Buddhist ways of meditation myself.

What I do object to is the belief that such subjective experiences entitle those who have them to claim privileged esoteric knowledge about the nature of God and the universe. Sam's quote from Bonhoeffer seemed to me an example of this.

Papilio said...

anonymous: no plagiarism accusation made! Just amazement at how a jumble of words can come out in exactly the same way. There are of course limited ways of arranging clauses to make sentences &c but usually our own mannerisms mean that no two sentences expressing the same idea will ever be alike --- except for when I read your words. Coincidence - but a weird sensation, as if there were another me out there.

big bad bob said...

apologies if i misunderstood your approach anticant...

But I think my point still stands these people have a frame of reference from which a duality such as evil is an illusion and so ultimately not a reason for them to automatically discount the possibility of a god of wholeness.


I'm off to meditate...

Papilio said...

anticant, you call this cobblers: "The knowledge of good and evil seems to be the aim of all ethical reflection. The first task of Christian ethics is to invalidate this knowledge."

I agree. To my limited brain this is saying: "don't let's talk about good and evil! Just because it feels bad now doesn't mean it isn't part of God's plan! If it's God's plan it cannot be evil..." etc, etc. It's saying that what we intellectually determine to be good and evil should be thrown out. Makes no sense to me.

anticant said...

"Evil is an illusion"? Sounds like Christian Science - which in my church-going days our local vicar described as neither Christian nor scientific.

If you want to read some really turgid godbothering sludge, read Mary Baker Eddy's "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures". I know - because my misguided late mother immersed herself in it for years, and hardly read anything else. Oh dear....

anticant said...

Atheist Ethicist has just put up an excellent post on "Reality" which, though it is narrowly focussed on American politics, is very relevant to the wider issues we are discussing here.

Andrew Louis said...

I struggle to understand what is fundamentally being argued against. In much the same way that the atheist has not defined God, the atheist has not defined his argument against it. Of course that’s what Dawkins aims to do I suppose, but so far it’s quite unsatisfying.

My question really is, what DEFINITION of God does the atheist reject? Because that seems to be what really lies at the core here. Some may say, I have no problem with “subjective” spiritual experiences; as if there’s such a thing as objective. What does that mean?

What isn’t subjective?
Subjective is (in one sense), when the words I use don’t fit “your” experience relative to a system of language. When we all agree, its objective, and we all assume it’s there in itself despite say, Kant. Not as if he’s the authority, but just an example.

It seems to me that God is true for some and not for others on the grounds of inconsistencies in the way we speak about things and the way we consider the meanings of those things. Scientific minded individuals see that “God talk” is not consistent with they’re world view; but what does that mean? To some degree it seems, all science does is seek to find the ways is which we all agree to something we dub objective. In this way art doesn’t exist, nor does “good”, or “evil”. How can one say, from his/her scientific perspective, that there is a problem of evil without a concrete definition of what that means? Can science tell us what good is, or is it subjective? Maybe there’s some who think everything is good, and some otherwise? And if it’s subjective, then perhaps it’s not the theist who has the problem, but the atheist? Who has the authority on whether or not what one would consider suffering is actually evil? Is the authority simply based on what we’d all tend to agree too?

Now one could argue, “fine, what is good then Nr. Theist?” and I could say in the spirit of Pirsig, “need anyone tell us these things?” The “problem of evil” exists in the atheists mind, it is not a matter of objectivity or of science; or so I would argue.

anticant said...

I leave it to Stephen and others better qualified than I am to develop the case for or against "objective" mental concepts and projections.

What Dawkins is arguing against is the belief in an actually existing 'supernatural' Creator God who brought the universe into being and takes a personal interest in the human species.

While this belief may be fairly harmless when it is deployed mainly for personal moral gratification and improvement, it becomes highly - potentially lethally - dangerous when it is claimed to guide the policies of "God-led" politicians such as Bush, Blair, and now Palin.

wombat said...

"My question really is, what DEFINITION of God does the atheist reject?"

Speaking for myself at least some of them! Probably most of them. One of the difficulties in tackling theism is that there seem to be so many varieties to choose from.
Dawkins takes some pains to make explicit that he is rejecting the sky Gods, the ones who descend from the old tribal legends, most notably the God(s) of the "Great Religions" as they are perceived by the majority of believers.

The problems I have with most "God talk" end are many, but possibly the most telling is that it frequently does not make sense in its own terms. If good and evil are not as we commonly understand them that is one thing but to say "God is good" and that God exorts us to "do good and eschew evil" and then deny that the term "good" has meaning is nonsensical. If they said "Well, good and evil are illusory so you might as well just do what makes you feel happy. 'specially since we cant give you any real clues about the afterlife - God will just treat you as he sees fit." I might at least grant it is a consistent position..

Papilio said...

Andrew

The problem the atheist has is in the smoke-like nature of the God Concept. I am convinced that any concrete definition of a theistic God can be refuted (philosophically if not scientifically).

To ask an atheist to define God is to invite the response "Ah, but that's not the kind of God I believe in." Which we have heard from theists in these pages.

The gold-standard of science is objectivity, which is aspired to and never quite met. Scientists are all too aware of their limitations and those of their methods (observer effect, anyone?).

who was it who said...

Sam is surely wrong, about (2), which cannot stop the whole argument being totally empirical, as (2) is analytical. Pain is by definition bad. If we liked it, it would not be pain. It may not be evil, but the problem of evil is actually (as most people recognise) the problem of suffering, and pain is suffering by definition. The question is whether it is the lesser of two evils (or undesirables) or not, not whether or not it is bad. (And suffering is evident, whereas the moral evils are more open to interpretation. So clearly, the argument being empirical is a matter of the argument being about suffering, rather than moral evil.)

anticant said...

It isn't up to sceptics to define the god or gods they don't believe in. It's up to the believers to come up with a credible and coherent definition of the god they do believe in - but they never have, and never will. When driven into a corner, they take refuge in negatives - "god is indefinable, ineffable, and incomprehensible to us mere mortals".

It is the IMPROBABILITY of any of theists' many attempts to define god which causes rational people to be atheists. We do not see any virtue in believing six impossible things before breakfast.

who was it who said...

anticant: One could say the same about Naturalists, with their physical substances and their nomological necessities and the like. Indeed, those who favour an ultra-rational Humean Supervenience do say such things.

anticant said...

I'm afraid "an ultra-rational Humean Supervenience" is a little beyond my comprehension. Could you please elucidate in plain English?

who was it who said...

Not really - in plain English it's just pure nonsense.

anticant said...

Ouch! someone who enjoyed travelling on British railways purely for fun was indubitably bonkers.

Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

I'm not sure I agree with the "pain is bad" thing either. Pain is certainly "good" taken in the context of what it is supposed to do. It isn't there to make our lives a misery, it's there to provide information about the suitability of our immediate environment.

Furthermore, although BB is correct in saying that the following is a legitimate hypothesis,

"There exists a being 'God' such that 'God' is maximally powerful and good.",

it's precisely our inability to produce a sound, objective definition of "good" that renders a substantial conclusion to this hypothesis difficult. We cannot even say that death is evil, particularly when we have the possibility of a heavenly reception after death.

We are forced into circular reasoning in that what is good is what God is, but only God really knows God, which means only God really knows what good is. All we know is that we don't like people dying and we don't like being hurt. But neither of these things can be conclusively described as objectively evil.

anticant said...

Surely the logic of the Christian position is that, for those who have led a virtuous life and are deemed deserving of salvation, death is the gateway to a far better state of existence than this life.

I have accordingly always been puzzled as to why so many Christians regard death as an evil - I would have expected them to welcome it, and indeed to hasten it by all possible means.

Perhaps Sam and other Christian luminaries posting here can explain?

Andrew Louis said...

“I have accordingly always been puzzled as to why so many Christians regard death as an evil”

I think I understand what you’re trying to get across here, but I’m not sure your choice of words is fair; that being, “death is evil”. I think it would, however, be safe to say that Christians have a fear and anxiety over death just as anyone else does; but this fear and anxiety shouldn’t necessarily be translated as an evil per se.

Is anything 100%; absolute? Is anyone’s faith that certain? Perhaps, but we’re likely talking about a few fringe individuals.

I always liked the idea (I believe it’s a Muslim one) that the devil wouldn’t bow to man because he loved and revered God so much. It was his love for God that placed him in hell, and it’s the absence of God (not hell fire) that represents the torment of hell. In the same way we love life, so much so that we refuse death at all costs. The idea of hell in one sense can be seen as the absence of life. The metaphorical question is then; does one love and trust in God (accepting the nature of life) or does one merely love life? If we accept that God is in the end “good”, then a kick in the nuts is just the way of things. I like the Buddhist saying in this case, “Desire is the cause of all suffering”.

In all these ways religious talk is not so much about something being a literal reality, but in creating a disposition towards life. That said, how does one create this sort of disposition if one’s worldview contains nothing but logic and science? Better put, how does one create this disposition in a world of duality? This isn’t to suggest that duality by itself is “wrong”, only to suggest that it’s a mere tool which we extend beyond its means. A hammer is good for pounding nails, but I’m not so sure it can be used to pound God.

On a side note I believe God to be metaphorical, at the same time though, I believe atoms to be so as well. That is, they’re words which appeal to certain forms of thought and different aspects of experience; also, [that] language is a metaphor for experience in general because it cannot *literally denote* experience, but only suggest similarity in expression (in other words, there really is no black and white, we’re always on unstable ground). The only thing I believe which can truly be argued is; what is the nature of those experiences our metaphors refer to and are they valid?

Andrew Louis said...

Something about that metaphor thing didn’t come out right, so let me say this:

If I know nothing of math, yet someone sets an apple in front of me, I experience that apple. If one sets another in front of me I experience that one and then at the same time both of them. If we then say 1+1=2 (I’d argue) this isn’t an indicator of that experience, it’s a metaphor for that experience, but only a particular aspect of it; the logical one.

Cassanders said...

@andrew louis
I have allways been puzzeled by people who find the notion of absence of god (-s presence ?) to be a satisfactory metaphor for the biblical and islamic "hell" or hell's torment.

One issue is the need then to disregard large proportions of the scripture, and the most reasonable context of these passages.
Another is the more obvious empirical issues: Large proportions of the world's population do ostensibly live "outside" the realm of the abrahamittic god. I can't see much difference in suffering or torment that reasonably can be attributed to such an absence.

Cassanders
In Cod we trust

wombat said...

"how does one create this sort of disposition if one’s worldview contains nothing but logic and science?"

Easy - try it.
Glib answers aside,
plenty of people manage to have a happy life on the basis of logic etc. without the need for the supernatural. This doesnt necessarily mean they are reduced to machine like lives, refusing to get out of bed in the mornings unless they can prove by logic it is the correct thing to do. As RD points out scientist's are driven by curiousity, wonder even. They appreciate beauty at many levels. They often win their knowledge through personal sacrifice working largely unrecognised for years to make some contribution or even as in the case of some of the medical pioneers at cost of personal danger.

Plenty more pepole find they are inspired by ideas which they will say are "greater than themselves" e.g art, justice, charity, truth even. People are inspired by these things for their own sake not bacause they think someone is going to sit in judgement on them.

There is a whole spectrum of uplifting meaningful stuff to be found in the natural world, or even I guess for Buddhists and the like, from inward contepltation, now of which gains anything from a deity.


On another tack -if love of God leads to hell (from his absence) is it not better to get used to it now? That way you will avoid dissapointment (and hell).

wombat said...

Sorry about the typing on that last lot. Should have been,


"There is a whole spectrum of uplifting, meaningful stuff to be found in the natural world, or even I guess, for Buddhists and the like, from inward contemplation, none of which gains anything from a deity."

Paul C said...

I'm not sure I agree with the "pain is bad" thing either. Pain is certainly "good" taken in the context of what it is supposed to do. It isn't there to make our lives a misery, it's there to provide information about the suitability of our immediate environment.

This is why the entire discussion is best phrased as the "problem of suffering", rather than of evil or of pain.

Sam Norton said...

Hi Stephen,

You might want to stick this on a separate post as it's getting some way away from Dawkins.

You state that the problem of evil is an empirical problem.

I'm saying that to move from saying 'pain exists' to saying 'evil exists' is not an empirical move. You are offering a further evaluation of the phenomena, not describing it in scientific terms. Whether I agree that pain is a bad thing (or, that it is sometimes a bad thing) is irrelevant to the point I am trying to make.

Big Bad Bob said...

Pain being an experience - Evil an all to human interpretation - is the way I would put it...

Once you move beyond paradox - into non-duality the interpretation of evil no longer fits...

Anticant perhaps you can tell me the buddhist name for non-duality ? I have always thought it was god. But if this term doesnt work for you - so be it.

Sam would you agree the god of the christian tradition can be seen not as simply "good god" but rather a transcendent god of whole-iness ?

How do we get back to Dawkins ?

Svanur Sigurbjörnsson said...

Hi Stephen
Thanks for a very educational review. The destinction between empirical and scientific is revealing.
Greetings from Iceland

Eric said...

"But other arguments are possible. The problem of evil, for example, is an empirically-based argument. But it’s not really a scientific argument. Rather, it's just an appeal to an obvious, observable fact – the world contains immense amounts of pointless suffering – that appears straightforwardly to falsify the hypothesis that there’s a maximally powerful and good God*."

I must question what you call an 'obvious, observable fact.'
It's obvious and observable that people suffer, but it's neither obvious nor observable that the suffering in the world is 'pointless.' Alvin Plantinga has pointed out a flaw in this reasoning with a fun thought experiment: suppose I ask you too look in a tent and tell me if there's a saint bernard inside. In this case, I have every reason to trust what you say, since a saint bernard is just the sort of thing I would expect you to be able to observe inside a tent. But suppose I ask you to look inside and tell me if there are any 'no-see-ums' inside the tent (apparently, a no-see-um is gnat with a big bite that is small enough to pass through the netting of a tent, and so is too small to see). Now, I have no reason to trust your answer in this case, since you can't see no-see-ums. Here's the problem: you're assuming that if there's a reason for our suffering, it's more like a saint bernard than it is like a no-see-um. This, however, is simply assumed; it's not argued for. It is certainly at least possible that we suffer for a reason, but that that reason is not something we can easily detect.

Stephen Law said...

Hi Eric

Yes I am aware of that sort of move. It's a version of what I call "playing the mystery card" - which I parody in my evil God dialogue.

Not withstanding the fact that we laugh when this card is played in defence of an evil God - despite it being just as appropriate/inappropriate, there is in any case the point that, actually, God's infinite intelligence etc. does not mean that everything he does should be entirely beyond out understanding. If a parent beats a child for apparently no good reason, we rightly assume that wrong and that the parent is a poor parent(though there *might* be a good reason). Learning that the parent is, in fact, vastly more intelligent than us really doesn't lead us to change that verdict at all.

Fact is, the beating is very god evidence that the parent is a poor parent - irrespective of how intelligent they happen to be (even increasing their intelligence to infinity doesn't help, does it?).

cl said...

Hi, first time here, got routed off a Google search for Dawkins TGD.

I wish you would have given philosophical, scientific or empirical support your agreement with Dawkins that the God Hypothesis is scientifically testable. To say such is to imply that God is or can be made amenable to measurements of matter.