Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Could it be pretty obvious there's no God?

Following on from the previous post...

“Let us say: 'Either God is or he is not.' But to which view shall we be inclined? Reason cannot decide this question." Blaise Pascal.

Like Pascal, many theists believe reason cannot determine whether or not God exists. Indeed, many suppose that, because God, if he exists, transcends the physical reality to which we have access, it is in principle impossible for determine whether God exists to settle the matter simply observing it. Science, and empirical observation more generally, can provide, at best, a few clues. They cannot settle the question beyond reasonable doubt.

I reject that view. It seems to me that by observing the world around us, we can answer the question of whether God exists. In fact, think it’s pretty obvious there’s no God.

That last claim may surprise even some atheists. How could it be pretty obvious there’s no God? Surely this is a tortuously difficult and complex question over which the greatest minds have pondered for millennia, without ever reaching any real consensus. How, then, can the answer be pretty obvious?

Well, I think the (evidential) problem of evil, combined with an absence of any half decent argument for the all-powerful, maximally good God of traditional monotheism, shows beyond reasonable doubt there's no such being. We really need to do little more than look out the window to see there's no such God.

True, many theists will be outraged by that, and will suggest all sorts of subtleties and sophistications. Indeed, they typically say: "But what about the arguments of theologians X, Y and Z? Until you've dealt in depth with all their many moves and arguments, you surely cannot say it's pretty obvious there's no God."

Trouble is, much the same sophisticated evasions etc. can be made in defence of belief in an evil God (as my The God of Eth begins to illustrate). Yet it remains pretty obvious there's no such evil being. The moral is obvious....

Indeed, isn't this just the courtier's reply, so nicely lampooned by pharyngula?

I have considered the impudent accusations of Mr Dawkins with exasperation at his lack of serious scholarship. He has apparently not read the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor's boots, nor does he give a moment's consideration to Bellini's masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor's Feathered Hat. We have entire schools dedicated to writing learned treatises on the beauty of the Emperor's raiment, and every major newspaper runs a section dedicated to imperial fashion; Dawkins cavalierly dismisses them all. He even laughs at the highly popular and most persuasive arguments of his fellow countryman, Lord D. T. Mawkscribbler, who famously pointed out that the Emperor would not wear common cotton, nor uncomfortable polyester, but must, I say must, wear undergarments of the finest silk.

Dawkins arrogantly ignores all these deep philosophical ponderings to crudely accuse the Emperor of nudity.

Personally, I suspect that perhaps the Emperor might not be fully clothed — how else to explain the apparent sloth of the staff at the palace laundry — but, well, everyone else does seem to go on about his clothes, and this Dawkins fellow is such a rude upstart who lacks the wit of my elegant circumlocutions, that, while unable to deal with the substance of his accusations, I should at least chide him for his very bad form.

Until Dawkins has trained in the shops of Paris and Milan, until he has learned to tell the difference between a ruffled flounce and a puffy pantaloon, we should all pretend he has not spoken out against the Emperor's taste. His training in biology may give him the ability to recognize dangling genitalia when he sees it, but it has not taught him the proper appreciation of Imaginary Fabrics.

50 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think a form of deism might be immune to the argument from evil, if one believes that God or a god created the universe but is now absent, or is so much greater than the universe that the suffering of humanity is a million times more inconsequential to it than the suffering of bacteria is to humanity.

Of course there are a couple of problems with the above. One is that such a god would provide none of the comfort usually looked for by believers. The other is the supposedly rational reason for the belief in the first place. If one feels the universe cannot adequately be explained without a creator, surely such a creator must be greater than the universe, and therefore even more in need of explanation? In other words the standard problem of regression you get with any first cause argument.

anticant said...

Have just been sent this link. Watch it and weep.....

http://richarddawkins.net/article,3068,Palin-average-isnt-good-enough,Sam-Harris-Los-Angeles-Times

anticant said...

It seems pretty obvious to me, if only on the Occam’s Razor principle – because believing in the existence of a God with the properties clamed for him by Christians raises issues – such as the problem of evil – which would not otherwise seem bafflingly insoluble.

Also, I am flabbergasted by the overweening hubris of those who believe that a Creator of the universe and all the myriad species in it would entertain a special regard or concern for human beings above others. Why?

And, as Anon says, God as “first cause” doesn’t solve the question of where God came from? But maybe the universe didn’t have a “beginning”. Time is a human concept which helps us make sense of chronological sequence. But it could be an endless loop, without any beginning or end.

However, just to stimulate Stephen’s powers of rebuttal, how about his, from St. Anselm [1033-1109]:

“THAT THE NON-EXISTENCE OF GOD IS INCONCEIVABLE

“This proposition is indeed so true that its negation is inconceivable. For it is quite conceivable that there is something whose non-existence is inconceivable, and this must be greater than that whose non-existence is conceivable. Wherefore, if that thing than which no greater thing is conceivable can be conceived as non-existent; then, that very thing than which a greater is inconceivable is not that than which a greater is inconceivable; which is a contradiction.

So true is it that there exists something than which a greater is inconceivable, that its non-existence is inconceivable: and this thing art Thou, O Lord, our God!”

- Proslogion, iii.

big bad bob said...

Afraid Anslem burns my head - I'll leave its rebuttal to Stephen. Isn't this the ontological argument - didnt CSLewis reinvent this by saying our need for god was proof of him - fish love water - dogs like meat - men love to create special leatherbound hymnals to mark special occasions...

But while we are on stating the obvious. Isnt it obvious we have two choices : either we believe in god and have to suffer the problem of suffering or we ditch god and have to suffer our longsuffering search for him.

Either way we dont exactly come out trumphs. There must be other ways of approaching this problem. Why can't atheism and theism both be true. I think I might need to go out for a walk to think about that.

" a thought as true as not true "...



But regarding Dawkins knowledge of religion - did it occur to him than pantheism and theism may in some way be mutually self sustaining. Theism relies on Pantheism to escape its riddles - Pantheism uses the language of theism in which to express itself. Are they in fact mutually interdependent religious ideas. Can Theism really be extracted as a discrete identity for scrutiny by his soft handed empricism. If you take a fish out of waters it dies.

Something stinks. Is it me ?

Answer as a post


B.B.B.

The Barefoot Bum said...

"For it is quite conceivable that there is something whose non-existence is inconceivable..."

I deny this premise. I can conceive of the non-existence of anything and everything, at least to the extent that I can conceive of anything subjunctive, false-to-fact, or hypothetical.

Indeed to conceive of the existence of anything is to also conceive of its non-existence.

The Barefoot Bum said...

either we believe in god and have to suffer the problem of suffering or we ditch god and have to suffer our longsuffering search for him.

Balderdash. I myself never even started looking for any sort of God, and I have not suffered one whit for this "lack" any more than I have suffered from the lack of a ball and chain shackled to my ankle.

I frankly don't think that the search for or desire for "God" is at all innate. Belief in God is foisted upon us, by our parents, by our cultures and, most importantly, by our rulers. Spend 10 years indoctrinating and inculcating a belief in God to an impressionable child, who is fitted by evolution to uncritically learn from her parents, and quelle surprise, she has an "innate" desire for God as an adult.

Jarich said...

Yes, I think it's pretty obvious that there is no God at all. I think the problem of evil is not even the biggest problem, it's especially psychology which can explain perfectly why people believe in God.

-People have always been gullible
-People have always been fascinated by supernatural things
-People have the tendency to think that objects have feelings or intentions, this is how the first rain-Gods were created
-People are always looking for meaning is this life
and so on.

Believers often say that there is no proof that God doesn't exist, but I don't think this is relevant. You can't proof that there is no teapot floating around Jupiter either.

It is very easy to see that the idea of a God simply does not fit in the context of a place were millions of people are suffering.

Andrew Louis said...

BB:
"I frankly don't think that the search for or desire for "God" is at all innate."

This is pretty solipsistic don’t you think? Religion/myth in one form or another exists in every culture back to the dawn of the thinking man. So are you saying that human beings are suffering from thousands and thousands of years of brainwash that started when one generation, from each individual culture across the globe, started a ridiculous story?

big bad bob said...

barefoot bum. I am sure you are convinced god is merely a subjective and socialised idea. There are countless other people who would disagree with you. That is why I say we

Shall we then exorcise this demonic ignorance with the light of your knowledge or countenance the idea that atheism is like theism is a leaky response - how can they both work as mutably interchangeable world views ?

I only believe in god after 5:30pm.


B.B.B

Papilio said...

anticant:

"Alaska is one of the refuge states - come on you guys - in the last days..."

(Palin's pastor; Palin not demurring)

So all it needs is a McCain win, a McCain stroke, and we have a "last days" president who presumably subscribes to the idea that the war to end all wars is part of God's Plan...

anticant said...

And with a lot of Zionists and Islamists saying the same, and Pakistan's nuclear weapons up for grabs, maybe we shouldn't be frittering our time away arguing about the existence of God, but need to be preparing for the inevitable?

Anonymous said...

I'd go along with the initial post as far as "Trouble is, much the same sophisticated evasions etc. can be made in defence of belief in an evil God (as my The God of Eth begins to illustrate). Yet it remains pretty obvious there's no such evil being."

To me it is not obvious that there is no evil omnipotent being. It's an unnecessary hypothesis, but not one which is patently contradicted by experience in the way that the existence of a good omnipotent being is.

James F. Elliott said...

Surely if it is impossible to establish the truth of god through reason, then reliance upon the Bible as its revealed words is right out as well? Did Pascal shoot Christianity and Judaism in the kneecaps? I think he did.

anticant said...

Nietzsche did it better.

Anonymous said...

An anonymous - "To me it is not obvious that there is no evil omnipotent being. It's an unnecessary hypothesis, but not one which is patently contradicted by experience in the way that the existence of a good omnipotent being is."

Well the same arguments apply - just cross out good and substitute evil. There are people who live and die seemingly without hardship. So either His Evilness isn't trying or...

Big Bad Bob- "Theism relies on Pantheism to escape its riddles - Pantheism uses the language of theism in which to express itself."

This is the the sort of move highlighted earlier ( "Sams Tartan Sheep")

1. Start of with (say) Christian monotheism.

2. Thats hugely implausible so throw out bits and tweak it until you have a God theory you can defend. (pantheism or deism)

3. Now God is plausible again.

4. How may Gods are there? So monotheism is OK right...

Well on the way to rescuing old Jaweh here. Just a few ore turns round the loop...

Anticant - Don't think St Anselm will stimulate anything much. Except perhaps derision.

Sam - You say that you understand religious language differently from the common atheist/agnostic/some other believers - this implies you know how they use this language. Can you please provide a translation for them.


TheOtherAnonymous

Anonymous said...

Stephen -give your position on protectin the young from religion. You might find this interesting:


Participating in religion may make adolescents from certain races more depressed

James said...

of course, it seems "pretty obvious" to someone with no scientific training that it makes sense to see human-like agencies as behind many natural phenomena. It seems "pretty obvious" that our minds are seperate from our bodies. All these things require an understanding of scientific disciplines and study of complex ideas such as evolution, the philosophy of mind, and modern neurology to be shown to be wrong. So if the atheist can say "well, you just don't understand, let me show you some science" in these instances, why can't a theist say "no, you don't understand, let me show you some theology?"

Spherical said...

I find your conclusion ironic, because I could just as easily say, "Could it be pretty obvious that there is a God?"

Evil or not, evolution does not offer a complete answer to where life came from. It does little to answer the basic question, where did it start?

Looking at the balance in nature, our bodies, the world, our solar system, the economy, etc. that must be in place and remain in place for life to continue, does it make sense that these are all the result of chance? That is a seemingly HUGE statistical improbabilty.

I look out my window and I don't see a battle field of good and evil. I see nature at work. I see animals that by instinct know how to behave. Plants that know to make their roots deeper when water is in short supply. Insects that are a nuisance to me, but neccessary to the continuation of life. How is instinct transfered? Where does it come from? It is easier to believe that it just exists?

Outside my window are too many coincidences. Circumstantial evidence to be sure. Maybe a jury won't convict on this evidence, but it can hardly acquit either.

anticant said...

Theology isn't a rational discipline. It operates in a closed circuit and is, in Popperian terms, unfalsifiable'.

As for the fallacy of mind-body dualism, I have already urged folk to read George Lakoff and Mark Johnson: "Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought." I have found this most illuminating, and would recommend it as a candidate for Stephen's Book Club.

Stephen Law said...

Hi Spherical. yes it could be pretty obvious there is a God. But it's not. It's obvious there isn't.

James said...

"Theology isn't a rational discipline. It operates in a closed circuit and is, in Popperian terms, unfalsifiable'."

So you view theology with suspicion because it does not fit with the way you view the world. Most theists are going to view aspects of science and humanistic philosophy the same way.

"As for the fallacy of mind-body dualism, I have already urged folk to read George Lakoff and Mark Johnson: "Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought." I have found this most illuminating, and would recommend it as a candidate for Stephen's Book Club."

See, this is my point. You urge further reading, of a book that goes beyond what is obvious by looking out one's window. Why can't the theist avail himself of a similar move? "science is not a discipline that can get at the truth about God- by it's nature it deals with the physical world- to understand the problems with evolution/naturalism/secularism/humanism read book X by theologian Y!"

How is this any different than what you are saying by recommending the Lakoff book?

Papilio said...

spherical:

"Looking at the balance in nature, our bodies, the world, our solar system, the economy, etc. that must be in place and remain in place for life to continue, does it make sense that these are all the result of chance? That is a seemingly HUGE statistical improbabilty."

ever heard of begging the question? By your reckoning any universe in which an intelligent being can stare out of the window and muse about the existence or not of God, must by definition have a God.

What would a godless universe look like?

If you accept evolution, you've admitted that theism is a dead duck - God has already retreated from the battlefield into an ivory tower.

Let me challenge you thusly: stare out of the window and take it as read that the universe is chock full of God. Now imagine God deleted. What changes in the view out of the window? Anything?

James said...

just because it seems obvious to some people that the evidential problem of evil rules out God, this doesn't mean that it is obvious if one does a little further reading, learns some theology, etc... few things are truly obvious

Papilio said...

james:

Science works. That's why we like it. Maybe I'd like theology too, if it collected data, tested hypotheses, and threw out rubbish theories. But it doesn't. What it does is start with a childish view of the universe and seek to justify that with sophistry.

anticant said...

James:

This is in fact a philosophy blog, though we do spend an inordinate amount of time - too much, imho - arguing abut religion, which isn't a philosophical subject.

The book I recommended is about philosophy in its strict sense, and is therefore much more germane to Stephen's discipline than works of theology are.

Anonymous said...

Spherical "It does little to answer the basic question, where did it start? "

Not so. It gets us all the way back to single celled organisms. From something like bacteria it explains all the complexity outside your window and a great deal of the complexity inside too.
Which is pretty good considering we've only been working at for under a century.

"I look out my window and I don't see a battle field of good and evil."

Lucky you live in a nice place! Watch the news on TV. Plenty of both there.

Stephen Law said...

Hi Spherical - sorry last response was flippant. Do check out the God of Eth if you have time. Link is in the post. It deals with your argument, in effect...

Andrew Louis said...

When we say it's obvious or not obvious that there is a God, it assumes we know what we're talking about when we say God. When we say it is, "a being that created the universe", this seems completely inadequate. What does one mean by being? What does one mean by created?

What are we saying does or doesn't exist?

If one states, it is obvious that the Christian/Hebrew God by literal interpretation of the bible does not exist – there’s some sense to that. However I’m not so sure this is (for example) Sam’s view of what God is. So then, how does that particular denial apply to Sam’s beliefs?

larryniven said...

Oh, dear, James:

"So you view theology with suspicion because it does not fit with the way you view the world. Most theists are going to view aspects of science and humanistic philosophy the same way."

This is wrong in almost every conceivable way. Theology does fit in with the way we view the world (sorry to speak for you, anticant, but here goes): it's a relatively predictable result of a commitment to superstition (which has biological bases) combined with an urge to be rational (likewise). Its tenets don't fit in with the way we view the world because we've abandoned the superstition part (at least, more so than theologians). Similarly with science and secular ethics: they actually do fit in rather snugly in theological views, it's just theologians hold to different tenets than scientists and secular ethicists.

But - so what? Let's assume for the time being that both sides really are baffled by the other. Given that they're in direct opposition to one another, one of them must be wrong. anticant's point (it seemed) was that we could tell relatively easily if science were wrong, but we cannot tell easily if theology is wrong without its consent. Given that we have way more confirming evidence for science than for God, and that we have way more evidence against God than against science (at least, if we're given a comprehensible God to work with), why should your objection matter?

Put differently, if you were faced with a finitist, would you simply accept that such a person just viewed math differently than you did, so no big deal? Finitism can, I assure you, be argued for using similar tactics to the ones theologians use to argue for God, but the same cannot be said of the argumentative tactics that scientists use. How do you reconcile the obvious falsity of finitism (or, as Stephen will no doubt ask at some point, belief in fairies) with what is in your mind the non-obvious falsity of theism?

Spherical said...

Papilo:

To respond to your challenge:

Let me challenge you thusly: stare out of the window and take it as read that the universe is chock full of God. Now imagine God deleted. What changes in the view out of the window? Anything?

Everything changes! Without a guiding hand, everything falls apart. Total chaos. Hell.

Let me ask you a question: If God is good, does that not necessitate evil? How can you be good if evil does not exist? I think the whole problem here is we don't see the reason the universe was created. It was not for our comfort or to create a utopia. It was so that his creation might have a relationship with him. That changes the perspective completely.

As I struggle with sin in my life, I have some to the conclusion that this struggle will never end. GOOD! Because if it ever did, I might cease to depend on God. I might cease to pray for deliverance. I might go back to being the same old fool that I was before. Life truly is a spherical journey!

I cannot surrender! It is this very struggle that will draw me to God. While I seek purity, if I am ever comfortable with my level of purity, I am defeated. I must continue to fight the good fight, to run the race to win!

Stephen:

I skimmed your link, and will respond when I have more time. Thanks.

Spherical said...

Anon:

Not so. It gets us all the way back to single celled organisms. From something like bacteria it explains all the complexity outside your window and a great deal of the complexity inside too.
Which is pretty good considering we've only been working at for under a century.

So we have been working at it for 100 years, (I would think longer) and still don't have an answer to the basic question, where does life come from?

My television shows what yours shows, but all I see out my window is trees. My window shows creation, my tv shows what we have done with it.

James said...

"But - so what? Let's assume for the time being that both sides really are baffled by the other. Given that they're in direct opposition to one another, one of them must be wrong. anticant's point (it seemed) was that we could tell relatively easily if science were wrong, but we cannot tell easily if theology is wrong without its consent. Given that we have way more confirming evidence for science than for God, and that we have way more evidence against God than against science (at least, if we're given a comprehensible God to work with), why should your objection matter?"

See, if you were talking to a real theologian (we're talking about the "sophisticated" kind now, not a creationist or somesuch), they would instantly object that science and God are not in conflict/they occupy seperate spheres/God underpins reality or whatever. They would say that if you would just listen to their arguments, you would see that God is actually necessary to a complete understanding of reality, and they would have reasons why.

You are jumping into showing the reasons why they are wrong. The question at issue is whether or not you need to bother to look at what they're saying before you reach the conclusion that their conclusion is "obviously" wrong.

You would be frustrated at anyone who refused to look at the science and philosophy necessary to underpin a naturalistic worldview, claiming that it was just "obvious" to them that God exists (who else made the universe? etc.)

anticant- why on earth does stephen spend so much time arguing with theists on here if they aren't talking the same language? They may not speak good philosophy for the most part, but they're speaking philosophy. I think theology and philosophy are probably more closely related than science and philosophy are.

The point I'm trying to make is that although it is blatantly obvious that God does not exist to the atheist, it is likewise blatantly obvious to the theist that God does exist. And one needs to turn to arguments, evidence etc. in either case. You may not think theists have good evidence, or valid arguments.

But this doesn't mean you shouldn't grant that it's possible you think it is obvious that they are wrong because you need to be taught some things about the way they think and the things that underlie their beliefs, in the same way someone who doesn't believe in evolution or understand philosophy of the mind needs further education before they can see that what they view as "obvious" is indeed not so.

Finitism sounds pretty good to me in theory, until I start to learn more. Likewise, could atheism be the same way? Theology certainly could be relevant to this question.

For one thing, it could help resolve problems in the world that count against the existence of God. It could better define what the term "God" means, and it could provide reasons for thinking it true, even "obviously" true that God exists. I know many people who think things like the argument from contingency make the idea of God pretty obviously true, or at least vastly superior to alternative explanations. I disagree, but the argument must be met with a counterargument, not simply waved away as "obviously" false.

True, theology apart from theology addressing the question of whether or not God exists is largely irrelevent to that question (which seems to be the point of the "courtiers reply"), but how could one know that theology dealing with this topic is an epic fail without actually reading any of it?

Spherical said...

Stephen said…

Well, I think the (evidential) problem of evil, combined with an absence of any half decent argument for the all-powerful, maximally good argument of traditional monotheism, shows beyond reasonable doubt there's no such being. We really need to do little more than look out the window to see there's no such God.

So it seems that, at least in this post, your basis for doubt is founded in the problem of the existence of evil. (please correct me if I am reading you wrong)

Looking at the Theists arguments for God that you have given, they shed little if any light on this difficulty.

1. Free Will. While this is a possibility, it is certainly not a proof. Even as a possibility, by itself it is lacking. If free will is the cause of evil, why the over-whelming suffering? Would not an all-knowing creator-God have foreseen the outcome? To create a universe for the sake of saving a few of its inhabitants seems a cruelty that no “good” God would endure.
2. Character Building. It is said that that which does not destroy me only makes me stronger. Trouble is, some do get destroyed in the process. How is their character built? Again, what kind of “goodness” can be found in the midst of such suffering?
3. Good requires Evil. God uses evil to “shine his light.” Yet this sounds more like the works of a person suffering from low self-esteem rather than the workings of an all-mighty creator of the universe.
4. Mystery. If it is arrogant to think that we cannot not fathom the ways of God, how is it that God can hold us accountable?

Have I done a reasonable job of shooting down all of the Theists arguments as you presented them, because I agree that none of these can or should be considered to be proofs of God’s existence. So maybe the solution, or at least a better understanding of the issue can be found by looking at what we do know exists, evil. And for the sake of argument, if we are going to say that evil exists, can we also say that good exists? For how can we have one without the other?

So, accepting the view that good and evil do exist, where do they come from? And what role does the concept of good and evil play in our understanding of the question, “Is there a divine creator or not?”

I would like to present my understanding of good and evil, and perhaps you can then share yours.

Good exists because God exists. God is good. Since He is eternal and is does not change, goodness must also be eternal. And if goodness is eternal, it seems to follow that evil would also be eternal.

At some point in time, the eternal God created beings (angels) to inhabit eternity with Him. These beings were in the presence of His goodness, but must also have been aware of evil. How else could they understand His goodness unless they also had some idea of its opposite? Some of these beings were taken captive by this evil. This is because their creator gave them this choice. The fact that He did this does not prove or disprove his existence. It is just what he did.

For whatever reasons, this God also created a universe in which there also existed the reality of good and evil. For reasons unknown to me, but which are apparently a part of His character, He created beings in this universe that were temporal in some ways, yet endowed with an eternal soul. In their current state, these beings would have to deal with the consequences of good and evil permeating their universe until such time as time as they know it would come to an end.

If we accept this understanding, it might begin to explain some of the problems one has with why there is so much evil in the world. It also takes the onus off of God as the one who inflicts the evil. It is not that he does not have a choice in the matter, it is that His goodness dictates that His choices are what they are whether we understand or agree with them or not.

So what is your explanation for the presence of good and evil?

Does it just exist the same way that atoms and gravity and light are a part of our universe? This would seem to be a possibility. No more or less real than what has already been proposed. It does not prove or disprove the existence of a creator-God.

Is it just a fantasy? Do they (good and evil) only exist because of our human desire to want to categorize everything we encounter? Is evil subject to our varying interpretations? If this is the case, what of the child molester? If evil does not exist, how can we hold him accountable? Or Hitler? Do crimes against humanity even exist?

A couple of questions regarding your dialogue “The God of Eth.”

GIZIMOTH says: Let’s agree about that, then. God, if he exists, is omnipotent.

Does the fact that God is omnipotent mean that he is free of the bounds of good and evil? Theology teaches this is not so, that God is incapable of evil. While you can argue that this does not make him omnipotent, I cannot agree. His nature not to sin does not make him incapable of sin. So if God allows us to exist in the condition that we are in due to His nature, how can the argument of evil be used to deny His existence? (I don’t think it can be)

GIZIMOTH says: But science can explain life.

While science has given us an understanding of many of the aspects of life, it certainly does not explain it! We can no better explain life than we can explain love, fear, or instinct. Understand them, yes, at least to a degree. Explain them in concrete terms that define their beginning, end and existence? Hardly.

--O

anticant said...

James: Why do you assume that I have never read the works of what you term “real theologians”, or discussed these matters with them? In the course of a long life I have done both [Bishop John Robinson, who wrote “Honest to God”, was a personal friend of mine ], but I have never found their ‘reasons’ for believing God exists convincing. I’ve no intention of spending more time on these gentry, as there are many more topics which I consider more urgent and important – such as how to rescue humanity from the lethal delusions of religious fanatics who are going to blow us all up with nuclear weapons quite soon unless sanity prevails.

Spherical says: “I think the whole problem here is we don't see the reason the universe was created” and then proceeds to tell us that “it was not for our comfort or to create a utopia. It was so that his creation might have a relationship with him.”

So Spherical has a hotline to the mind of God? This sort of stuff, and the other blithe assertions in similar vein which he makes in his later long post addressed to Stephen, renders reasoned discussion with him impossible - it’s like trying to swim through porridge.

Papilio said...

"Let me challenge you thusly: stare out of the window and take it as read that the universe is chock full of God. Now imagine God deleted. What changes in the view out of the window? Anything?

Everything changes! Without a guiding hand, everything falls apart. Total chaos. Hell."

What? So with God gone all the sparrows start flying backwards, the trees invert themselves, the sun turns black and the grass catches fire? The world around us proceeds alone quite merrily -- there is no hand on the tiller.

"If God is good, does that not necessitate evil? How can you be good if evil does not exist?"

If space is cold, does that necessitate heat? Good and evil are just labels for human behaviour. Sometimes we do good things. Other times we do bad things. Other animals do what might be considered "good" and "evil" acts, but we don't seem too surprised. We look to natural selection to explain their behaviour.

But why would someone give up their life to save a stranger? Is God necessary for this to make any sense? Not at all. It is easy to come up with a plausible hypothesis about how such behaviour could evolve naturally.

Anonymous said...

Spherical - I took the evolution project to date from when Charles Darwin published. Eve if you go back to the voyage on the Beagle thats only 1830s

Fair point re most TV, Of course you could argue that TV itself was evil and leave it there...

Anonymous said...

James, I think you may have given the theists of Eth a new argument:

"Does the fact that God is omnipotent mean that he is free of the bounds of good and evil? Theology teaches this is not so, that God is incapable of good. While you can argue that this does not make him omnipotent, I cannot agree. His nature not to do good does not make him incapable of good. So if God allows us to exist in the condition that we are in due to His nature, how can the argument of good be used to deny His existence? (I don’t think it can be)"

Anonymous said...

That last comment should have been directed at Spherical.

Anonymous said...

"His nature not to sin does not make him incapable of sin."

So he could if he wanted to.
I bet he does it all the time.
In fact he must have ways of sinning we can't even comprehend.

And when he isn't doing it he thinks about doing it. And thats a sin too, right?

Spherical said...

Anticant

I don't claim to have a hotline to the mind of God, so perhaps I should have offered that as an alternative rather than stating as I did. Point is, if you are drwoning in porridge, that is what you must swim through to get to land. I believe that to patently say "there is no God" one must consider all possibilities. I do not claim to prove God's existence via my response, merely to point out that one looks through the window and sees evil, one sees good. The reality is that they are both there, and might we ask why and what that means. To say that "Good and evil are just labels for human behaviour." seems a bit simplistic and convenient. I have just turned the porridge into water!

Papilio

What? So with God gone all the sparrows start flying backwards, the trees invert themselves, the sun turns black and the grass catches fire? The world around us proceeds alone quite merrily -- there is no hand on the tiller.

That is your opinion and you are entitled to it. You asked mine, which I can prove no more than you can prove yours.

If space is cold, does that necessitate heat? Good and evil are just labels for human behaviour.

So hot and cold don't exist either? Are they merely human labels? If good and evil are merely human labels, then what of Stephen's argument that evil shows that God does not exist (at least, that is my understanding of his argument). If these are merely human lables, then doesn't that take away such an argument?

But why would someone give up their life to save a stranger?

Why indeed. I can't answer that, and neither can you. Without a greater good and a greater evil, so little makes sense (to me at least).

"I think you may have given the theists of Eth a new argument"

Have I given them a new argument? That was not my intent. I sought rather to show that the argument of evil is no more a proof of his lack of existence that the other arguments fully prove his existence.

Anon

So he could if he wanted to. (sin)
I bet he does it all the time.
In fact he must have ways of sinning we can't even comprehend.

Who is claiming to know the mind of God now?

--O

Anonymous said...

spherical

Re Sin: I don't claim to know his mind - it just sees likely doesn't it? Power corrupts and all that. Added to which He is probably pretty good at covering his tracks. According to the OT he admitted to jealousy.

Seriously though I think this highlights one of the problem of appealing to infinities

re: The world flying apart.
Something like this seems to come up
quite a bit. Where does the idea that things need continual attention to stay the same come from?

re Hot and cold. The point is that they boot refer to a things position on a scale (of temperature). We say something is cold relative to some thing else usually. Can the same be said of good/evil. Are they simply relative to some scale (merit?) or are they in fact different things like, say, saltiness and acidity? Both tastes but not opposites. If someone does you a good turn at the same time as some injustice how do we describe the situation? (e.g. giving you your favourite cake out of kindness and at the same time kicking you in the shin which you probably don't like at all)

Papilio said...

"So hot and cold don't exist either?"

What I was clumsily trying to get at is that not everything that exists necessarily has an opposite. In about 100 billion years or so there will only be cold. Space will be so spread out that there'll be no heat. Ergo, one can imagine a situation with cold, but no hot.

I can imagine a situation (created) with good, but no evil. If I can imagine it, God could have created it. N'est pas?

"But why would someone give up their life to save a stranger?

Why indeed. I can't answer that, and neither can you. Without a greater good and a greater evil, so little makes sense (to me at least)."

I can come up with a plausible answer that does not involve God. It would be tedious and off topic to detail it (although I could if you so wish).

The God of Eth implies that one set of data (reality) can be used by theists to draw precisely whatever conclusion they want to. With the same data we can apparently prove a "maximally good" God and a "maximally evil" God. Neither exist; it's just an exercise that shows that every kind of God in between these extremes could also be "proved" with the same data.

larryniven said...

"See, if you were talking to a real theologian (we're talking about the "sophisticated" kind now, not a creationist or somesuch), they would instantly object that science and God are not in conflict/they occupy seperate spheres/God underpins reality or whatever."

??
That was your dilemma in the first place - are you now backing off of it? Remember, you said that most theists are going to reject various aspects of science. So does science conflict with religion for you, or not?

"The question at issue is whether or not you need to bother to look at what they're saying before you reach the conclusion that their conclusion is "obviously" wrong."

And we have. Theology, I promise you, is not all that complicated. At best, if you even accept the arguments, they're based on technicalities or holes in our language, like how Plantinga's free will defense just exploits a modal loophole or how the ontological argument just defines God as existing. In fact, if you've been paying any attention at all, this is precisely what Stephen does in the God of Eth scenario: he takes all the theological objections to the evidential problem of evil and shows that they're implausible when it comes to his evidential problem of good. In other words, James, we looked through the best theological arguments, found them badly wanting, and have thus concluded - not just decided - that their stance is pretty obviously wrong.

Moreover, when they're found out - as you and spherical have been in the course of this conversation - even the "good" theologians turn to argumentative prestidigitation in order to win their point. What does it matter, as spherical asks, if materialistic atheism can't explain life (it can, of course, but pretending it can't)? Christianity is just as pretty obviously false in that scenario as it would be in any other. Note that it's not just you and spherical who play this game: William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga, among others, devote a great deal of time to worthless arguments along those same lines. An attack on atheism is not a defense of Christianity, so not only are even the "good" theologians pretty obviously wrong, they're pretty obviously committed to their side of the argument no matter where the truth lies.

Rayndeon said...

@James: just because it seems obvious to some people that the evidential problem of evil rules out God, this doesn't mean that it is obvious if one does a little further reading, learns some theology, etc... few things are truly obvious

Hmmm. I've read my Plantinga, my Howard-Snyder, my Alston, my Wykstra, my van Inwagen, my Swinburne, and a lot of others.

Still seems pretty obvious to me. ._.

Anonymous said...

In a sense "respectable" theology has already answered its big questions:
i) "How may Gods are there?" and
ii) "What are they like?"

The answers to (i) seems to be either
zero (buddhism, atheism), there used to be one but he's gone somewhere else (deism),
infinitely many but infinitely small or smeared out like fog so its impossible to tell (pantheism)

The answer to (ii) is either "irrelevant"
(no God(s) currently available) or "meaningless" and therefor of no practical consequence.

All that we are now left with is the leftovers. Sure you can find these people in any field. Science has its share (homeopaths, inventors of perpetual motion machines etc.), history its conspiracy theorists, there are still racial supremicists with their 18th Century ethics and in the field of politics you might even find some Marxists. Some are foolish, some deluded, some are simply mis-guided, while some (very few) are genuine mavericks seeking to breath life into pantomime horses. Who's to say that they will never succeed? They are sometimes fun to watch but do so from a safe distance. You would be ill advised to bet on the inhabitants of their stables.

Anonymous said...

The argument over whether good necessitates evil seems like a really poor argument for theists to use. If it's true, then surely that rule is in place because of God's will. This seems to rule out God being all good.

If that's not the case and good necessitates evil is some rule that even God must follow, then he is not omnipotent.

Anonymous said...

This anonymous - "To me it is not obvious that there is no evil omnipotent being. It's an unnecessary hypothesis, but not one which is patently contradicted by experience in the way that the existence of a good omnipotent being is."

To which another one responded:
"Well the same arguments apply - just cross out good and substitute evil. There are people who live and die seemingly without hardship. So either His Evilness isn't trying or..."
........
or that's part of His evil plan to confuse people and make some of them worship false (good) gods and kill those who worship other false (good) gods.

Of course a vicious evil One will enjoy the irony of presenting people with an evidently evil world yet deluding some of them into thinking all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds - until they die and suffer eternal pain in His hell.

And, for the record, I don't know anyone who seems to live without hardship. As the saying goes, "Call no man happy until he is dead".
And does the sight of others' suffering really cause the just man no hardship?

BTW, are those of us who believe in Stephen's God of Eth the true ethicists?

James said...

"Why do you assume that I have never read the works of what you term “real theologians”, or discussed these matters with them?"

I don't. Sorry if it came across that way. I understand that most people on here have read a lot of theology, and found it to be bunk.

But the question as I understood it is whether or not it makes sense to call it bunk at the outset, without having gone to some work to read and interact with it. Do you need to actually interact with the arguments of theologians to know they are wrong?

"That was your dilemma in the first place - are you now backing off of it? Remember, you said that most theists are going to reject various aspects of science. So does science conflict with religion for you, or not?"

Well, the question is whose religion? For some theologians it does, for some it does not. Let's use a non-scientific example. To many, it seems obvious that moral laws need a divine lawgiver to underwrite them. No! You would say; it's not obvious- read the Euthyphro dialogue.

In most cases, in order to undermine the "obvious" truth of an opponent's worldview, you need to direct them to some more sophisticated reading in philosophy or science. You would expect them to consider that what they see as obvious is not so upon further reading. Why can't theologians expect a similar courtesy?

"Moreover, when they're found out - as you and spherical have been in the course of this conversation - even the "good" theologians turn to argumentative prestidigitation in order to win their point."

Don't jump to conclusions. I'm not trying to win any point, and I'm certainly not a theologian. I'm trying to see the argument for the obviousness of atheism developed a bit more. It would be nice for me if such a thing could be easily demonstrated. So far I haven't been convinced that it can be. But I'd certainly like to be convinced. It would make religious discussions with theistic friends and relatives a lot easier...

anticant said...

The issue, surely, isn't the "obviousness" of atheism so much as the lack of evidence for the various versions of God put forward by believers. Even if there is some convincing evidence - which so far as I am concerned has yet to be produced - the balance of probability is still heavily against there being any such entity.

larryniven said...

"In most cases, in order to undermine the "obvious" truth of an opponent's worldview, you need to direct them to some more sophisticated reading in philosophy or science."

That is blatantly false: you could just as easily (as Stephen does here!) lay out one's case explicitly and in detail. This is only possible, of course, if you have a case - but if you don't, why hold to a certain worldview at all?

"You would expect them to consider that what they see as obvious is not so upon further reading. Why can't theologians expect a similar courtesy?"

Because I, for one, don't expect or want such a courtesy and therefore don't want to extend it to anyone else. Too often in conversation, "go read x" is just shorthand for "I hear x proves you wrong but I haven't actually read it myself nor do I expect to be able to understand its arguments, but I don't have to in order to know that I'm right." That's plainly insufficient, though: one should have to at least give a summary of one's reasons for belief (or, equally, for skepticism).

"I'm not trying to win any point ... I'm trying to see the argument for the obviousness of atheism developed a bit more. It would be nice for me if such a thing could be easily demonstrated. So far I haven't been convinced that it can be."

Uh, so you're not trying to win any point, but you are trying to win the point that the obviousness of atheism cannot be easily demonstrated? I refer you back to my "argumentative prestidigitation" comment: trying to play both sides like you are plainly doing here is a way of escaping the argument, not of contributing to it. If you have reasons why Stephen's God of Eth doesn't pretty obviously prove theism false, let's hear them - otherwise, what in the name of all that's good are you still doing claiming that his argument fails?