Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Feser's criticism

Edward Feser has been criticising my evil God argument over on his bog. I have rattled his cage with a comment (not yet moderated). Wonder if he'll respond?

Here is what Feser said:

Law's argument evidently presupposes a "theistic personalist" or "neo-theist" notion of God and is therefore completely irrelevant to the classical theism of Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, et al., according to which God is not "good" in the way a human being is good, as if He and we both instantiated the same property; rather, He just is Goodness Itself, and anything less than that is (for a classical theist) necessarily other than God. Hence it is incoherent to suggest that God might be evil.

Re: the analysis of evil as a privation, I would say that it is hard to makes sense of individual examples of evil on any other view, and hard to make sense of evil as an objective feature of the world at all -- which the atheist himself has to do if he's going to make arguments from evil stick -- except on the privation view. I would also say that the privation view naturally falls out as a consequence of a general classical realist metaphysics (whether Platonist or Aristotelian). In any event, whether the classical theist can argue for this analysis of evil to Law's satisfaction or not is irrelevant to the question at hand, because the analysis is integral to the classical theistic view of God and the world. Thus, if Law says that there might at least in principle be a (classical theist) God who is evil, then he either doesn't understand what classical theism means by "God" or is just begging the question against classical theism. Either way, as I say, his argument is irrelevant.

Now, a critic might at this point say that he isn't familiar with and doesn't understand all this stuff about evil as privation, God as pure act, God as Goodness Itself, etc. But if so, then that's the critic's problem, because in that case he doesn't understand classical theism itself and therefore shouldn't presume that he has raised any challenge to it.

See, this is what annoys the hell out of me: The sort of atheist -- and this is the typical atheist, in fact -- who (if he is even aware of them in the first place) treats concepts like pure act, evil as privation, divine simplicity, the transcendentals, the distinction between per se and accidentally ordered causes, and all the other elements of the classical theistic tradition as if they were a bunch of oddities which the theist brings in in an an hoc way in order to patch up arguments that would otherwise have to be admitted to have been demolished by atheist criticisms; and as if he is under no obligation to try to understand them before judging that the traditional arguments fail. One wants to say: "No, dummy, these elements have always been integral to the tradition of philosophical theology, and if you don't know of or understand them, that only shows that you don't have the first clue about that tradition itself, and thus shouldn't be opening your mouth up about it." Which is, of course, what I often do say.

Accordingly, most atheist arguments, even most of those presented by otherwise serious philosophers (rather than by the Dawkinses of the world), are simply irrelevant to the question of whether classical theism is true. In fairness, though, too many contemporary religious apologists and Christian philosophers of religion have little more knowledge of the classical theist tradition than the typical atheist does. They argue for what is in effect (and whether they realize this or not) a decadent "theistic personalist" or "neo-theist" conception of God, and thus open themselves up to arguments like Law's. But that only shows that, here as in so many other ways, we modern Christians are inferior to our forebears, and are paying the price for forgetting the tradition they tried to pass on to us, and have passed on to us if only we'd listen to them. It doesn't show that there is anything wrong with the tradition itself. And the sooner we re-learn that tradition, the better.

12 comments:

Sam Norton said...

Any chance you could copy in your response to the comment thread here?

Michael Young said...

I second the motion.

Also, I have a question about the structure and goal of the evil god argument. I take it that the argument aims to show that traditional theodicies are weak when used to answer the evidential problem of evil (assuming a good god). If this is the goal, then the argument succeeds beautifully in my view. My unschooled question, however, is whether many theists do in fact take the theodicies to be a proper answer to the evidential problem of evil in the first place? Are the theodicies typically used to answer the evidential problem?

(For e.g., Plantinga's free will defense was aimed at the logical problem, for example. This question is also motivated by my sense (not having read or remembered much of the literature) that it would be weird for theists to answer the evidential problem of evil with traditional theodicies--it feels like the wrong tool for the job anyway (from their perspective).))

wombat said...

Did you really mean "has been criticising my evil God argument over on his bog" or was it some sort of Freudian thing?

Well wherever he's sitting it does seem at least he agrees that the majority of the people calling themselves theists these days are just plain wrong.

Steven Carr said...

FESER
Law's argument evidently presupposes a "theistic personalist" or "neo-theist" notion of God and is therefore completely irrelevant to the classical theism of Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, et al., according to which God is not "good" in the way a human being is good, as if He and we both instantiated the same property; rather, He just is Goodness Itself, and anything less than that is (for a classical theist) necessarily other than God.

CARR
Well, this is all just words.

And not English words either, as Feser simply redefines good to be different from how other English speakers use it.

How can you dialogue with theists who refuse to speak English as we know it?

But at least Feser admits his imaginary god is not good in the way a person is good, although we are allegedly made in the image of this god.

jeremy said...

Stephen, I don't know how you summon the energy!

My interpretation of Feser: "Law is wrong ... ... because I can define God as Goodness!" And he has the cheek to say you might be begging the question!

Steven Carr said...

I think Feser is one of those people who deny that their god is good in the way a human is good, claim that there is only one god, claim that Jesus was god, claim that Jesus was human, and claim that Jesus was good in the way a human being is good.

And then Feser lambasts critics who point out that they do not understand this.

BenYachov said...

Why is it so hard for you New Atheist types (unlike your more rational Old Atheist brethren) to simply admit there is no such thing as a one size fits all polemic against Theism in general or religion in general? That's just common sense. I've read Feser's AQUINAS & THE LAST SUPERSTITION. I've also read the relevant chapters of Davies work on the subject. If I stopped believing in God in any way shape or form tomorrow I would in principle be forced to conclude that Law's argument only has force against a Theistic Personalist view God. It is completely useless against a Classic Theistic view. As useless as proving to a Christian Zeus doesn't exist then trying to tell him "Well if this god can't exist why are you so sure this YHWH fellow is real?".

You don't have to believe in God to see that Feser is correct here. In fact you can continue to deny him & still see that.

BenYachov said...

BTW I'm referring to his full response to Law here.

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/10/laws-evil-god-challenge.html

>I have rattled his cage with a comment (not yet moderated). Wonder if he'll respond?

I reply: That's an odd statement. Feser doesn't moderate his comm box. He may remove a post if some jerk posts something nasty but he has no moderation in my experience. Maybe you are thinking of someone else Prof Law?

Sam Norton said...

He's now given a full(er) response: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/10/laws-evil-god-challenge.html

Edward Feser said...

BenYachov,

I don't moderate comments on new posts, but comments on posts older than two weeks get moderated. Prof. Law posted his comments well after the post he was commenting on went up, which is why he said (correctly, at the time he said it) that his comment was "not yet moderated."

Stephen Law said...

Thanks, I'll get round to writing proper response to Edward's piece shortly, I hope. Currently having a work meltdown (hence infrequent posts)

BenYachov said...

Thanks Prof Feser, good to know.

It will be interesting to see what Prof LAw could possibly say in response. A Classic Theistic view of God does not envision evil as anything other than privation of good. God in the Classic sense is not a moral agent thus showing moral privation of him is about as meaningful as showing God is deficient because as a Being of Pure Actuality he has no muscles thus lacks "perfect muscle tone" & then concluding he is "not really perfect".
Like I said if I stop believing in any gods tomorrow Law's argument would be meaningless to a Classic Theistic view of God. You can prove Zeus doesn't exist to a Christian but the Christian presupposes the non-existence of Zeus & thus could not logically conclude a non-existent Zeus casts doubt on the existence of YHWH regardless if we conceive of him Classically or Neo-Theistically.