Monday, November 14, 2011

Fumbling Feser


Edward Feser, Catholic philosopher and big fan of Aquinas, wrote a post a year ago explaining why he thinks the evil God challenge doesn't apply to his sort of non-personal, classical God-of-the-philosophers. This is because Aquinas et al demonstrated that anything that's God must be good, given the medieval background metaphysics. Hence an evil god is impossible.

I pointed out that showing an evil God is impossible is irrelevant (I also pointed this out in the paper "The Evil God Challenge" which Feser has read). Even if there were a conceptual problem with the idea of an evil God (and there may also be similar problems with the notion of a good God, actually, but let's set that worry to one side), that does not prevent the evil God challenge from being run. Feser still can't understand why, but here's the reason.

Assume an evil God is conceptually impossible. Nevertheless, there might also be powerful empirical evidence against an evil God. In fact there is - far too much good in the world. And if that empirical evidence is sufficient to rule an evil God out beyond reasonable doubt (at least until some very good counter-argument etc. is forthcoming), why then isn't the evil we see sufficient to rule a good god out beyond reasonable doubt(at least until some very good counter-argument etc. is forthcoming)?

Some have objected that if something is ruled out conceptually, then it makes no sense to suppose there could also be empirical evidence against it. But it seems there can.

For example, William Lane Craig's cosmological argument relies on the thought that an infinitely old universe is a conceptual impossibility. Yet Craig also thinks there's also good empirical evidence that the universe is not infinitely old (i.e. evidence for a Big Bang). So he, for one, accepts that something that's ruled out conceptually might also be reasonably ruled out inductively, on the basis of empirical observation.

Anyhoo, Feser has responded again, in a post called "Broken Law", repeating the same old points. So I thought I'd call this post "Fumbling Feser" in reply. As Feser continues to fumble and drop the ball on the evil God challenge. He continues to maintain it just "doesn't apply" to his classical God. In fact, it does apply. Which is not to say it cannot be met (perhaps even by the construction of a cogent demonstrative proof of the existence of a good God, whether personal or non-personal, perhaps even in the style of Aquinas).

So here's my latest comment on his "Broken Law" post...

Hi Edward

You say:

"Suppose, finally, that you also think there are demonstrative (as opposed to merely inductive or evidential) arguments for the existence of the God of classical theism -- that you endorse an Aristotelian argument from motion to a purely actual Unmoved Mover, say, or Aquinas’s “existence argument” in On Being and Essence for something that is subsistent being itself, or a Neo-Platonic argument for a source of the world that is an absolute unity. If such arguments work at all, then given the background metaphysics, they prove conclusively (and not merely with some degree of probability) that there is a God who cannot in principle be anything less than perfectly good."

Perhaps you have such an argument. In setting out the challenge, I don't claim you don't. This is the bit you still don't understand. The evil God challenge is a challenge. Perhaps the above meets it. Perhaps not. But the above does not show that that the challenge does not apply, i.e. because if correct it shows an evil god is impossible.

Showing an evil God is impossible is irrelevant, for the reasons I explained and which you still don't get.

Demonstrating there's a good god IS relevant, but it is simply a way of meeting the challenge, rather than showing it "does not apply".

You may think this is a fine distinction that doesn't matter much, but it does matter. Because it leaves the very powerfully formulated version of the problem of evil set up via the evil god challenge still on the table, rather than just swept aside on the grounds it "doesn't apply".

Do your medieval "demonstrations" that few philosophers find persuasive really carry much weight against my otherwise overwhelming empirical evidence that your God does not exist?

We'd need to examine them and find out. Though, as I say, the verdict of the philosophical community is already in.

I know you think that's because most philosophers don't really understand them. Actually, I am pretty familiar with arguments of your sort. I've even read your book on Aquinas.

In effect, your response to the evil god challenge is just to say *the evidential problem of evil* "doesn't apply" to your classical God. Because you can demonstrate your God exists.

As a response to the problem of evil - and my evil god challenge - that's obviously hopelessly question-begging.

POSTSCRIPT: The moral is, if you think you can ignore the evil god challenge because you think you can show a priori that an evil god is impossible, think again. That does NOT deal with the challenge. Feser's objection is just an illustration of this more general error.

48 comments:

funnyatheists said...

After all this you still haven't given people your definition of "good" and "evil" or even demonstrated how your definitions are even relevant to classical theism.

It may be that your definitions makes your argument completely irrelevant to classical theism. I suspect this is the case, it certainly seems to be the case anyway.

But we can't be sure unless you provide your understanding of "good" and "evil".

Brigadier said...

Right, so the line Feser should take is that i) an evil God is conceptually impossible and ii) there is no empirical evidence against the existence of an evil God (skeptical theism).

Challenge met!

Sam Norton said...

"In effect, your response to the evil god challenge is just to say *the evidential problem of evil* "doesn't apply" to your classical God. Because you can demonstrate your God exists."

No - because it is logically incoherent to assert evil of the classical God, not because such a God can be (arguably) demonstrated to exist.

Eric said...

Professor Law, OK, I think I finally understand what the issue between you and Professor Feser is.

If the classical theist claims that an evil god is impossible, the challenge still applies, for the classical theist must then *show* that such a god must be good. In other words, Professor Law's dispute is with whether, in such a case, the EGC would be *irrelevant* or whether it would be *met*. He would claim that, given the success of such an argument (for a necessarily good god), the EGC would be met, not shown to be irrelevant, whereas Professor Feser would say that in such a case, the challenge would be shown to be irrelevant. (Of course, Professor Law would dispute the claim that there is such a successful demonstration, and that the challenge has been met, but that's not what's at issue here: what's at issue is whether such a proof would meet or render irrelevant the EGC).

Does that sound about right?

dguller said...

If X is ruled out as conceptually impossible, then one can pretend to seek X in the empirical world to disprove the logical demonstration that showed its impossibility. However, one can pretend that a square circle is something that one might find in the empirical world, and thus devote one’s life to checking every square to see if it is still a circle, and vice versa. I would say that this is incredibly ridiculous, and betrays a lack of understanding of the terms involved.

Now, some conceptual impossibilities have the contradiction deep and outside our superficial awareness, and thus we can pretend that they are coherent and consistent. For example, set theory was shown to have a contradiction at its core by Russell’s paradox, but mathematicians could still use sets for a variety of purposes, even though the foundation was incoherent. Law would say that that is just fine, but I would say that until the foundation is consistent and coherent, everything that follows from it is just pretending and make believe. Much like someone pretending to look for square circles, they aren’t really doing anything at all, because the subject of their activity is a logical contradiction, which is simply beyond our ability to conceive.

That is how I would understand Craig’s seeming contradiction that an infinitely old universe is conceptually impossible, but we can still look for empirical evidence for the absence of an infinitely old universe. If there is a logical contradiction involved in an infinitely old universe, then it is deep down in the structure of the concept involved, and thus we can still pretend that it makes sense for the purposes of empirical study, but really, it is incoherent to its core.

In the end, it still remains the case that something that is conceptually impossible cannot really be empirically studied, because there is no real subject of study. And so if metaphysical demonstrations are more like logical or mathematical demonstrations, then seeking empirical refutations is just a category mistake. It would be like looking for four-sided triangles in the world, which I’m pretty sure no-one says is a good way to understand triangles.

rad said...

I think that funnyatheists objection is very relevant. If you think of god as person like us, without our limitations in power and knowledge, and that an evil or good god is a preson, that is intent on producing umlimited earthly joy or suffering, then your EGC hits the nail.

But if you take the terms "good", "evil" and "God" in the classic sense then your EGC is so trivial that it does not amount to a challenge at all.

@dguller, is that you? You sound so rational (re LNC).

Mike Almeida said...

For example, William Lane Craig's cosmological argument relies on the thought that an infinitely old universe is a conceptual impossibility. Yet Craig also thinks there's also good empirical evidence that the universe is not infinitely old.

Craig does say that, but I'm not sure it helps you. If p is a conceptual truth, then p can be neither confirmed nor disconfirmed by any additional evidence, at least on typical Bayesian views of confirmation. Conceptual truths such as, say, p are certain, so P(p) = 1. But then, for any old evidence you like E, P(p|E) = 1. That is, p remains certain no matter what else you learn. What Craig is doing is arguing for the claim that p is a conceptual truth, and I think it's ok to use empirical evidence to do that. So, I might ask a good mathematician whether she thinks T is a theorem. If she tells me it is, then I have empirical evidence E' that T is a theorem. But I can't put P(T|E') = 1, since I don't know T's a conceptual truth. So, here's the difference between you and Feser, I think. He says that God is not evil G is a conceptual truth and we know it. That's expectable: it's a traditional Anselmian and Thomistic thing to say. If so, then P(G) = 1 and the evidence from evil adduced against G (assuming all the other stuff about ominiscience, ominipotence, etc.) won't confirm or disconfirm G. You concede that it is a conceptual truth that God is not evil, but you don't concede that we know it's a conceptual truth or that we know G is certain. If we don't know that G is a conceptual truth, then we don't know that P(G)= 1. Then (again, granting everything else necessary to make this go) the evil observed counts as evidence against the claim that it is a conceptual truth. It also, obviously, counts against the existence of such a good God. It is a long story but I think it is difficult (despite being traditional) to defend the claim that it's apriori true that God is essentially perfectly good. I do think it's a necessary truth, though.

Stephen Law said...

Hi Eric, you said "Does that sound about right?" I think it's pretty close, yes!

Brigadier you said: "Challenge met!"

er, no. You have to actually show these things, rather than just assert they can be shown!

Stephen Law said...

Sam - you are just missing my point re impossibility arguments. It matters not to the effectiveness of the evil god challenge whether it's impossible for god(s) to be evil.

BenYachov said...

Of course Dr. Feser respond to Prof Law's non-answer.

http://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=8954608646904080796&postID=563654022580990746

Prof I have said over and over if I deny any gods tomorrow I would still say your EGC only can be applied to a Theistic Personalist concept of God.

I don't actually have to believe a Classic Theistic God exists to see your EGC rationally don't apply to it. It's still a non-starter like a devastating critique of Young Earth Creationism to a room filled with Theistic Evolutionists or person's with Augustine's interpretation of Genesis One. It doesn't even get off the ground.

You are just going to have to live with it.

dguller gets it and he is an Atheist/Agnostic the last time I checked.

Stephen Law said...

Ben Yachov. That last post was all assertion, no argument.

Tony Lloyd said...

I’ve put a comment on Edward Fesser’s blog about how I think he’s missed the point (as you keep telling him!). But I thought I’d pick up on a couple of comments here:


Sam Norton says:

“it is logically incoherent to assert evil of the classical God”


The Argument from Evil is, in summary:

1. If God then not Evil (no Evil in the “logical argument from Evil”, “not as much as there is” in the “empirical argument from Evil”)
2. Evil
3. Thus, no God

What is supposed to be “incoherent”? The argument isn’t incoherent, it’s valid. The concept of Evil isn’t incoherent. “Childhood bonecancer”, there you go: Evil. If the concept of God is held to be incoherent then Stephen doesn’t need to raise the argument from Evil anymore than he needs evidential arguments to refute the existence of flibble.

That leaves us with the conditional “if God then not Evil”. Is that incoherent? Far from being incoherent it is its negation that Sam claims is incoherent. In the empirical argument from Evil it is accepted that the negation is not incoherent, there can be Evil and God, just not that much of it. An assertion of logical incoherence supports (or accepts) the logical Argument from Evil and we don’t even need the Evil God Hypothesis.


Dguller says:

“In the end, it still remains the case that something that is conceptually impossible cannot really be empirically studied, because there is no real subject of study.”

What is it in the above argument that we can’t empirically study? It’s not Evil. Evil exists and we can study it. It would seem that we can’t really study God.

funnyatheists says:

”we can't be sure unless you provide your understanding of "good" and "evil".

A definition or, even, clarification of “good” and “evil” isn’t required at all. We know enough about both to accept that both exist (establishing the second premise in both the Argument from Evil and the parallel “Argument from Good”). We also know enough to appreciate that there is a conflict between their existence and extent and the existence of good-God and evil-God, thus establishing the second premise.

Of course if you were trying to establish that Evil God did exist or if you were trying to argue that the evidence for God is inadequate these comments might be relevant. I’ve seen loads of counter arguments (including Edward Fessers) that assume one of these about the Evil God challenge.

Maybe you should just bang on and on (and on) about Modus Tollens. I know you do, constantly, summarise the argument. Maybe, though, that just adds another “and on” on.

Sam Norton said...

Tony, the word 'God' in your syllogism is ambiguous - which God? In any case, you are not predicating evil of it, rather simply of the world, and it is the former which is the incoherence.

Stephen Law said...

Mike A. you said:

"Conceptual truths such as, say, p are certain, so P(p) = 1."

That's not true. A conceptual truth could be highly uncertain. If it's truth is not obvious.

"You concede that it is a conceptual truth that God is not evil"

That's not true either. I don't concede that.

Eric said...

"Hi Eric, you said "Does that sound about right?" I think it's pretty close, yes!"

Thank you very much for taking the time to help me understand your position, Professor Law.

Tony Lloyd said...

Hi Sam

"you are not predicating evil of (God)"

I'm predicating the abscence of evil in the world on God (logical argument from evil) or the abscence of quite-so-much-of-it (empirical argument).

This can be any "god", the Classical God, the Personal God, anything worthy of the name "God". To say that God has an attribute I may well need to explicate the concept of God being used, just as I might need to specify a football team when saying they wear Royal Blue. I don't need to specify a football team to say they don't have barbed hooks on their kit or are in the key of "F". Neither do I need to specify which concept of God doesn't have a single at the top of the download charts, doesn't taste of chicken or is not a factor of 50.

Stephen Law said...

Hi Rad
(slightly reworked comment from earlier deleted one)
You said:

"I think that funnyatheists objection is very relevant. If you think of god as person like us, without our limitations in power and knowledge, and that an evil or good god is a person, that is intent on producing umlimited earthly joy or suffering, then your EGC hits the nail.

But if you take the terms "good", "evil" and "God" in the classic sense then your EGC is so trivial that it does not amount to a challenge at all."

My response: I don't need the concept of evil to run the problem of evil (it can be run just as effectively as the problem of suffering, as Craig admitted in our debate).

But on the assumption that appalling suffering inflicted for no good justifying reason would be a gratuitous evil, there's no harm calling it the problem of evil.

Now let me ask you, is pointless suffering a gratuitous evil, or even evil, on your definition of "evil"? If God now slowly tortured every child to death, despite their being no cosmic benefit to that at all, would that be evil? Would it be gratuitous evil?

Perhaps not, if it's just something that flows inexorably from God's nature. Perhaps you would say, it must be good, if it flows from his nature! That, precisely, is what makes it good, what ultimately justifies it. No matter what unimaginably vast quantities of agony and horror may now flow out of this cosmic sluice, you'll bathe in it's outpourings, worshipping and exalting it's source, and exclaiming that it's all so very, very "good".

Or, would you say "Well, yes what pours out is evil. Appalling so. But that's no reason at all to suppose the source of all this agony and horror is not wholly good"? Nothing that pours out of this cosmic sluice, no matter how appalling, can ever give is the slightest reason to doubt that the source is "good". You'll continue exalt and worship it. For it is, after all, the source!

Or would you say, no God's goodness means he would not do such a thing. But then why doesn't the fact that, if he exists, he clearly does do such things (and on an unimaginably vast and horrific scale!), establish beyond reasonable doubt that he does not exist?

dguller said...

Tony:

What is it in the above argument that we can’t empirically study? It’s not Evil. Evil exists and we can study it. It would seem that we can’t really study God.

First, I was speaking generally that if a logical deduction concludes that X is impossible, then how exactly do you propose looking for X?

Second, when discussing “good” and “evil” from the classical theist standpoint, you have to keep the definitions straight. Strictly speaking, at least from the Thomist standpoint, “good” has to do with the actualization of one’s nature towards its particular ends, and “evil” is simply the prevention of this actualization. That is why goodness is related to being, i.e. a real actualization of some potentiality, and evil is related to non-being, i.e. the lack of actualization of some potentiality.

The classical theist version of God basically says that God is Pure Act, by virtue of the cosmological argument, for example, and that since he has no potential at all, being Pure Act, then his nature is fully actualized, and thus is “good”. So, to say that God might be “evil” means a contradiction, because it is impossible that something is both (1) fully actual with no potential, and (2) has potential. If this argument is correct, then an evil God, according to this framework and terminology, is a contradiction, and thus makes no sense at all.

The burden upon you would be to show either that (1) this framework is incorrect, which is certainly possible, or (2) that one can study concepts that are incoherent and contradictory.

Any thoughts?

BenYachov said...

@Prof Law
>Ben Yachov. That last post was all assertion, no argument.

So has been most of your responses to Feser IMHO. Do I have to document them? That would be tedious.

One standard for you another double standard for me.

Beside I already made my arguments in the comments boxes yours & Feser's. It's not my fault you either didn't read them or ignored them.

You cannot apply your argument to a Classic Theistic God only a Theistic Personalist one.

Empirical evidence of evil in the world shows God if He exists is not a well behaved perfect moral agent. But since the Classic God can not coherently be described a moral agent in the first place it's a non-starter.

Live with it. You argument can't be applied to a Classic View of God only a Theistic Personalist view.

BenYachov said...

>My response: I don't need the concept of evil to run the problem of evil (it can be run just as effectively as the problem of suffering, as Craig admitted in our debate).

You are like the Mad Hatter. Words mean what you want them to mean when you want them till you change the meaning.

If there is no common definition of evil then you are not giving me a rational reason to doubt God. You are giving me sophistry on the level of a Young Earth Creationist claiming God planted Dinosaur bones.

Bad form sir.

Stephen Law said...

ps sorry for the weird rogue apostrophes ("it's") in my previous comment....

BenYachov said...

>But on the assumption that appalling suffering inflicted for no good justifying reason would be a gratuitous evil, there's no harm calling it the problem of evil.

This is an argument from emotion. You might as well argue if there is no God then Hitler got away with it. Or some emotive appeal to the need for meaning.

I believe in God & I am not moved by either argument to continue belief in Him. They are appeals to emotion not reason.

You have no objective definitions Prof Law of "Good" or "Evil". Feser Does. You keep moving the goal post to the point where the EGA is just the classic argument from Evil which is not unique.

What is the point of this?

BenYachov said...

Here is Feser’s response to Law in case nobody read it. I took the liberty of correcting a verbal gaff Feser’s himself corrected over at his blog.

QUOTE “Hello Stephen,

In effect, your response to the evil god challenge is just to say *the evidential problem of evil* "doesn't apply" to your God. Because you can demonstrate your God exists.

Nope, that's not it at all. That's something any old theist could claim: "I already independently know that God exists, on such and such grounds." But I'm not saying that. As I've said many times, my point is that the nature of classical theism, specifically, makes your "evil god challenge" irrelevant to it whether or not classical theism is true. And I've explained why, with arguments you continue to ignore rather than answer.

But your argument now sounds like it amounts to little more than the claim that the existence of evil is a challenge to the claim that there is a God. Which is just the ancient argument from evil warmed over rather than the novel challenge your "evil god challenge" was supposed to be!

Look, Stephen, here's the bottom line. If your "evil god challenge" really is something interestingly different from the argument from evil, that can only be because it stalemates the case for a good God's existence -- because it shows that any evidence that could be given for a good God is paralleled by evidence for an evil god, so that if we reject the latter (as we all do) then we have to reject the former as well. And as I keep pointing out, that's only going to work given a theistic personalist approach to theism, not a classical theist approach.

As you have before, you now seem to be retreating into this position on which the "evil god challenge" is really just the challenge of answering the problem of evil. Which, as I say, is not a new problem at all. In which case, why are we discussing your article when we could be discussing something that hasn't been said a million times before?

I think you're better off taking my advice and admitting that your "evil god challenge" doesn't apply to all forms of theism. That way you'd at least have something novel to say -- as you clearly thought you had -- that would at least apply to some forms of theism.

As to this "Here's what the 'philosophical community' thinks" stuff, really, Stephen, you've read my work. Do you think I really give a damn about that?

Probably not. But you evidently give a damn about it, which is bad enough. Well, here's a newsflash: The Appeal to Majority is still a fallacy even when the majority in question have Ph.D.s in philosophy. If Aquinas had appealed to what "the 'philosophical community' thinks" in his day, or Hegel to what "the 'philosophical community'" thought in his, they would have arrived at conclusions very different from yours. And just as fallaciously.

Anyway, good morning to you over in the UK. I'm off to bed!END QUOTE


I am threw causing trouble for now.

BenYachov said...

One last thing.

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06636b.htm

Goodness as defined & explained by the Catholic Encyclopedia.

I don't give a rat's behind if you agree with it or not. But if Prof Law isn't going to give an objective working philosophical definition of Good then his argument is meaningless sophistical blather to a thoughtful Theist or Atheist.

Aint Aquinas said...

Ben the Bellicose said:

"Goodness as defined & explained by the Catholic Encyclopedia."

The first sentence of the defined & explanation reads:

"Good" is one of those primary ideas which cannot be strictly defined.

Heh.

BenYachov said...

Judging a 15 page plus article on the opening sentience out of context?

Seriously?

Plus leaving out the sentience that came after "In order to fix it's philosophical significance we may begin by observing that the word is employed firstly as an adjective and secondly as a substantive."

Is the intellectual quality of the average Atheist here this low brow or is "Aint Aquinas" merely an anomaly?

I hope the later.

Stephen Law said...

Just posted this at Feser's blog. Edward, you say:

“But your argument now sounds like it amounts to little more than the claim that the existence of evil is a challenge to the claim that there is no God.”

Ah right the penny has finally dropped. It is indeed a way of developing that traditional challenge and refining it somewhat.

“Which is just the ancient argument from evil warmed over rather than the novel challenge your "evil god challenge" was supposed to be!”

Warmed over, eh?! Charming. Well, the evil God challenge is a way of developing the evidential problem of evil in such a way that very many standard theistic responses are neutralized or revealed to be hopelessly inadequate. Because, it turns out, those responses work just as well in defence of an evil god. The key point is, the evil god hypothesis remains straightforwardly empirically falsified on the basis of what we see around us, notwithstanding the reverse theodicies I consider.

That’s what makes this way of developing the challenge posed by evil somewhat unusual, and worthy of inclusion in the journal Religious Studies, apparently.

Obviously, you’re not terribly impressed. It’s just the evidential problem of evil “warmed over”, you say. But let’s look at an illustration of the evil god challenge in action.

One author dismisses the evidential problem of evil as an argument against the existence of God as “worthless”. Why is it worthless? The author sweeps the problem to one side because they suppose it’s entirely dealt with by two points. The first point is: they suppose we can look forward to a limitless afterlife in which we’ll enjoy the beatific vision, and this is going to more than compensate us for all the horror we experience in this life. The author quotes St. Paul, who said: “the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us.” The second point the author makes is this: that the pain etc. we experience now is the price paid for greater goods to be gained later. They illustrate by pointing out how suffering of child being forced to learn the violin is the price justifiably paid for great good of that child’s later being able to play violin (they admit this isn’t suffering on quite the scale of Auschwitz, but insist the same basic principle applies). Indeed, this particular author adds that, by supposing evil constitutes good evidence against a good God, the atheist is just assuming there’s no God and thus no wondrous afterlife etc. that more than compensates the evils we experience now. So the atheist’s argument based on suffering is hopelessly circular. Indeed, this author says that atheists who run such an argument need “a course in logic”!

CONTINUES IN NEXT COMMENT...

Stephen Law said...

CONTINUES FROM PREVIOUS COMMENT...

But now here’s where the evil God challenge comes in. All these points made above can be flipped in defence of belief in an evil dod. A defender of belief in an evil god can say we can look forward to an afterlife of unremitting terror and suffering, and this will more than compensate us for any good enjoyed now. Moreover, these goods we experience now are actually the price paid for greater evils (I give loads of examples in my paper). Moreover, by assuming that the goods we see around us constitute good evidence against an evil God, the evil-god-rejecter is just assuming there’s no evil God and thus no hellish afterlife that more than “outweighs” the goods. So these objection against belief in an evil god are hopelessly circular. Clearly, this critic of the evil god hypothesis needs” a course in logic”!

Now, despite the above moves that might be made in defence of belief in an evil God, it remains pretty obvious that there’s just way, way too much good stuff in the world for this plausibly to be considered the creation of an evil God.

In fact, most of us (except e.g. the sceptical theists) will continue to consider the evil god hypothesis absurd on empirical grounds (whether or not also on other grounds), notwithstanding these rather ridiculous attempts at explaining all the good stuff away.

Of course, none of this is to say that the evil God challenge cannot be met. For example, the author in question might perhaps come up with some really argument for the existence of a good god, and argument that’s so very, very compelling that it more than outweighs the mountain of evidence against such a god constituted by the vast quantities of horror and suffering we see around us (but boy it’s going to have to be a really good argument!).

But that’s what this particular author needs to do to really meet the evil god challenge. Otherwise, their attempts to deal with the problem of evil have been exposed as hopelessly inadequate. Despite all the dismissive posturing about critics needing a “course in logic”.

So who is the author in question?

He is the author of a book called “The Last Superstition” (see pages 161-165)

That’s to say, it’s you, Edward.

BenYachov said...

Proof Law,

For your criticism of Feser's statements on pages 161-165 to work you have to not define evil as privation and treat it as ontologically identical but opposite with good.

Which would be successful if that is the case in regards to good vs evil. But if evil is still privation then your argument still makes no sense. Since a evil god could not exist & also could not create.

Oh sir what would you do without the fallacy of equivocation and the undistributed middle?

Well at least you are trying.

BenYachov said...

Also as another wag points out over at Feser's blog he is addressing the logical problem of evil not the evidential problem.

But since you have stated you don't believe evil is a privation you have effectively conceded the dispute to us.

Tony Lloyd said...

Hi dguller

An incoherent concept is, of course, not ideal but it's not necessarily fatal to enquiry.

There's the old example of "the man drinking martinis is drunk" when it's water in his glass (he has presumably gone onto water as he is smashed out of his skull on martinis).

Whilst there is no "man drinking martinis" and it doesn't, strictly, refer it would be pretty clear who was meant and a rational discussion about him could be had. You can look for him and statements made about him ("he's wearing a blue shirt", "he got drunk yesterday") can be true or false.

Of course if the contradiction/non-reference/incoherence in X is gross and obvious it's pretty silly to go looking for X.

But neither the Argument from Evil nor the Argument from Good go looking for anything, they're both arguments against the existence of an entity and neither rely on establishing the existence of another entity.

You may have to establish a foundation to show that X exists. Or searching for X may presume its existence, or its coherence as a concept. But not searching for X because it does not exist does not presume its existence or coherence and you don't need to found its existence before denying its existence.

As for the Classical Theist concept of “good”, I’m afraid I find it so much “blather”. We may not be able to pin down “good” and “evil” but certain examples of it are pretty clear and those examples don’t fit with the Classical Theist analysis. The Good Samaritan was good. To so love the world that you send your only son to save it is also good. A widow denoting two mites is not only good but better than a wealthy person donating a sestersius or two. Invading Poland tends to be bad even if you're true to your "being" or whatever.

But even if we accept that the Classical Theist concept of good is sensible we can construct a Classical anti-God-theist version:

“The classical anti-God-theist version of anti-God basically says that anti-God is Pure Act, by virtue of the cosmological argument, for example, and that since he has no potential at all, being Pure Act, then his nature is fully actualized, and thus is “evil”. So, to say that anti-God might be “good” means a contradiction”

And you reject anti-God, don’t you? For good reasons. But you don’t reject God, do you? Even though there are comparable reasons for rejecting that belief.

Stephen Law said...

Hi BenY

"Also as another wag points out over at Feser's blog he is addressing the logical problem of evil not the evidential problem."

Nope. It's definitely the evidential problem that Feser is targeting, not (just) the logical problem. Feser talks about goods that outweigh "all this suffering".

dguller said...

Tony:

Of course if the contradiction/non-reference/incoherence in X is gross and obvious it's pretty silly to go looking for X.

I would say that even if the contradiction is subtle, then there is a problem. A contradiction at the heart of any concept means that one can infer anything from it by virtue of the law of non-contradiction and reduction ad absurdum. So, looking for empirical evidence of a concept that is incoherent and contradictory, whether gross or subtle, is generally a waste of time. (The one caveat is that there might be an error in the reasoning that led to the contradiction, and finding an empirical example of a previously thought contradictory concept would require a reassessment of the reasoning. I can imagine this occurring when the chain of reasoning leading to a contradiction is long.)

As for the Classical Theist concept of “good”, I’m afraid I find it so much “blather”. We may not be able to pin down “good” and “evil” but certain examples of it are pretty clear and those examples don’t fit with the Classical Theist analysis. The Good Samaritan was good. To so love the world that you send your only son to save it is also good. A widow denoting two mites is not only good but better than a wealthy person donating a sestersius or two. Invading Poland tends to be bad even if you're true to your "being" or whatever.

Look. I don’t have a horse in this race. I’m actually an atheist. I just enjoy stimulating intellectual discussions, and want to make sure that people’s views are represented properly. With regards to Feser’s Thomism, it is important to keep in mind the framework from which he operates before offering any criticisms. He defines his terms quite clearly, and thus the logical implications of those terms are must more clear than Law’s account, which does not even define “evil” or “good” at all.

And with regards to Thomism, the general idea is that the goodness of X depends upon the degree to which X’s nature is actualized. I actually like this definition, but find it incredibly difficult to identify exactly what a thing’s nature is, and find it even more difficult to believe that there is a single final end for each nature. But that’s a whole other story.

“The classical anti-God-theist version of anti-God basically says that anti-God is Pure Act, by virtue of the cosmological argument, for example, and that since he has no potential at all, being Pure Act, then his nature is fully actualized, and thus is “evil”. So, to say that anti-God might be “good” means a contradiction”

So, you would define “evil” as the actualization of a being’s nature? Okay. I can think of a number of examples of “good” being defined in this way, but can’t think of any examples of “evil”. Care to provide any? If you cannot, then I’m afraid that you are just calling “good” “evil” and “God” “anti-God”, but the referents remain the same. It would be like saying that 3 + 3 = 8, but only because “3” is the name for the number 4.

BenYachov said...

>Nope. It's definitely the evidential problem that Feser is targeting, not (just) the logical problem. Feser talks about goods that outweigh "all this suffering".

So your are now telling me what Feser really means?

Seriously?

Anonymous said...

Hi Stephen,

As an academic philosopher myself, I am amazed and in awe of you for spending so much time engaging those who do not take the time to publish their own work or read yours with care. If I am so wrong and you are so right, I say publish your work and let's have at it. But who wants to 3-4 months working on a serious academic article with so many other sites to troll.

BenYachov said...

dguller the Atheist also writes:

QUOTE"“The classical anti-God-theist version of anti-God basically says that anti-God is Pure Act, by virtue of the cosmological argument, for example, and that since he has no potential at all, being Pure Act, then his nature is fully actualized, and thus is “evil”. So, to say that anti-God might be “good” means a contradiction”

So, you would define “evil” as the actualization of a being’s nature? Okay. I can think of a number of examples of “good” being defined in this way, but can’t think of any examples of “evil”. Care to provide any? If you cannot, then I’m afraid that you are just calling “good” “evil” and “God” “anti-God”, but the referents remain the same. It would be like saying that 3 + 3 = 8, but only because “3” is the name for the number 4.

BenYachov said...

Sorry I wanted to comment dguller gets it even if he doesn't agree with it.

It's a great post from an Atheist who gets it & yet doesn't believe in any type of God, personalist or Classical.

rad said...

Hi Stephen,

"My response: I don't need the concept of evil to run the problem of evil (it can be run just as effectively as the problem of suffering, as Craig admitted in our debate).

[...]

Now let me ask you, is pointless suffering a gratuitous evil, or even evil, on your definition of "evil"?"

I agree that suffering (not only pointless or gratuitous suffering) is an evil, for it is a kind of corruption of a being. But this gets you only so far. You cannot say of god that he is evil, using "evil" in the sense of suffering.

So you have to define what you mean by "evil" as applied to God. Maybe you mean by "God is evil", that God is the source of suffering? But God cannot properly be called the source of suffering (or evil). Its like calling the sun the cause of shadows or darkness. Or calling the sun a source of evil, because everything that happens on earth happens by the energy that is provided by the sun. Would you likewise call the sun the source of evil and suffering in the world?

"If God now slowly tortured every child to death, despite their being no cosmic benefit to that at all, would that be evil? Would it be gratuitous evil?"

Yes, it would be evil.

"Or would you say, no God's goodness means he would not do such a thing. But then why doesn't the fact that, if he exists, he clearly does do such things(and on an unimaginably vast and horrific scale!), establish beyond reasonable doubt that he does not exist? "

The problem here is, that you cannot properly say that God does such things. Or would you say that the sun is responsible for Ausschwitz because it provided the energy for the plants and the animals on which the Nazis lived. And that it provided the energy by which Nazis were able to extricate materials from the earth and fabricate their weapons? I think this would be absurd. Its the (personal or nonpersonal) agent that acts and that is the proper cause for the things he does. But it is God who gives existence to everything, just as the sun can be said to give life to earth. And this by itself is good.

Gene Callahan said...

Stephen cannot, in the least, grasp classical theism or the nature of its arguments. They are beyond his ken. Thus, Feser is e.g. speaking Latin, and Stephen keeps thinking he is speaking modern Italian really, really badly, and keeps responding to that bad modern Italian that he imagines Feser is speaking.

Daniel V said...

Dear Dr. Law,

You wrote: "Assume an evil God is conceptually impossible. Nevertheless, there might also be powerful empirical evidence against an evil God."

The position of the classical theist is that an evil god is a logical contradiction (an existing thing with the privation of all being).

If you maintain that one could find empirical evidence that can count against the evil god, then you must think that a particular state of affairs follows from something that is logically impossible. But, as you know, everything follows from a logical contradiction. There are no particular counter-factual states of affairs that one would expect to obtain, if one grants the existence of an evil god (assuming it is logically incoherent). So there could not be a particular set of states of affairs that, failing to obtain, would count against the evil god hypothesis. So how are you able to infer what evidence would count against the evil god?

The response you do provide is that Dr. Craig makes the same move in his defense of KCA. So the question is whether Dr. Craig does indeed make the same move, and , if he does, whether he is also in error to do so.

As I understand it, Dr. Craig puts forth two sets of arguments. The first set is philosophical, where he argues that the existence of an actual infinity leads to contradictory results, and should be rejected on account of that. He then argues for a finite past on the grounds of positive evidence that the universe began to exist. I see no reason for why he can't do this. You seem to be construing this as evidence against an infinite past, but I think Craig avoids this problem so long as he counts the scientific evidence only as evidence for a universe with a finite past (granting that such a finite universe is not also conceptually impossible). In other words, the evidence Craig cites is used to build a positive case for a finite past, having already shut off the possibility of an infinite past for philosophical reasons. Craig appears to realize that the scientific evidence, taken alone, cannot disprove an infinite past. I think this must be because he realizes that there are no counter-factual states of affairs that we would expect given an infinite past. And so, the scientific evidence cannot be used to discount it.

This means that the analogy between Craig's argument for KCA and your argument for the evil god breaks down in the following relevant way: Craig can look for positive empirical evidence for a finite past (given that it is coherent), but not negative evidence counting against an infinite past. Your argument, on the other hand, offers nothing logically coherent to which the empirical evidence can be positively applied. Certain phenomena are taken as strong negative empirical evidence against the evil god, but not taken as strong positive evidence for anything at all (certainly not for a good god). Thus, I think drawing parallels to Craig's argument proves unsuccessful.

But even if your argument is analogous to Craig's argument, at best you are showing that one would be inconsistent in saying that your argument fails, but Craig's scientific evidence against an infinite past succeeds. If my previous analysis of Craig's argument is incorrect, and Craig actually is presenting the scientific evidence as evidence against an infinite past, then I am willing to be perfectly consistent and say that both you and Dr. Craig are in error. Nonetheless, Craig's KCA might still run successfully on his philosophical arguments alone, whereas this would prove to be a fatal to your "evil god" challenge. It is for this reason that I think Dr. Feser is correct when he says that classical theism is immune to your "evil god" challenge.


-Daniel

Tony Lloyd said...

Let us accept that if p is a theorem/necessary/certain then no evidence can arise that will count against p (from Mike Almeida above). Whilst p may be a theorem/necessary/certain “p is a theorem/necessary/certain” is not a theorem/necessary/certain and evidence can count against that.

David V argues that a logical contradiction (an “anti-theorem”?) cannot have evidence against it. But take the Goldbach Conjecture, that any integer greater than 2 is the sum of two primes. As this is a claim of pure mathematics, if the Conjecture is false it contains a logical contradiction. Yet the identification of an integer that is not the sum of two primes is not only evidence, but pretty conclusive evidence, against the Conjecture.

So, back to the Evil God. That the Classical Theist holds that an Evil God is an anti-theorem does not make it so. More, it is a claim that is dependent on Good God being a theorem. “Good God is a theorem” is, as above, not itself a theorem and can have evidence against it. Now, a non-theorem “Good God” may be compatible with a lot of counter evidence but “Good God is a theorem” is not. A theorem entails no counter evidence whatsoever, and there is counter evidence. The Classical Theist has not protected himself against the Evil God Challenge by removing counter arguments but (if we are to take him seriously) by rendering the Evil God Challenge superfluous.

The Evil God Challenge bolsters the evidential argument from evil, Good-God per definito falls to the logical argument from evil.

Mike Almeida said...

Whilst p may be a theorem/necessary/certain “p is a theorem/necessary/certain” is not a theorem/necessary/certain and evidence can count against that

Yes, I said this. But this is consistent with Feser claiming (and lots of theists make this claim) that it is a conceptual truth that God is (at least) good, setting aside moral perfection for the moment. That this is a conceptual truth is more on the order of a simpler mathematical claim, not on the order of more complicated conjectures. That's the view. And there is some pull to this view; I, in any case, can't easily make conceptual space for an evil God. I can make space for a very evil, powerful non-God, who some might have confused for God. But that's a different thing altogether.
So, when students ask the inevitable question:'what if god is evil?', there is a sense in which (those who think like Feser) can say this is possible and a sense in which they can say it isn't. The simple answer is that, as a matter of apriori truth, God is good. So it's not possible. The more complicated answer is that, we might discover that God does not exist, but Scmod does. Schmod is an evil, omnipotent, omniscient, etc. being. When you think you're conceving of the possiblity of God being evil, what you're really conceiving of is Schmod existing. And there is conceptual space for Schmod.

Daniel V said...

Tony Lloyd writes,

"David V argues that a logical contradiction (an “anti-theorem”?) cannot have evidence against it. But take the Goldbach Conjecture, that any integer greater than 2 is the sum of two primes. As this is a claim of pure mathematics, if the Conjecture is false it contains a logical contradiction. Yet the identification of an integer that is not the sum of two primes is not only evidence, but pretty conclusive evidence, against the Conjecture."

1. Just to be clear, the Goldbach Conjecture states that any even integer greater than 2 is the sum of two primes. Clearly 1 and 3 prove to be examples of integers that are not sums of two primes, as you describe the conjecture. Another version of the conjecture is that any integer greater than 5 is the sum of three primes.

2. I take the claim that any false conjecture in pure mathematics to be the result of the containment of a logical contradiction (self-contradiction) to be controversial for a couple of reasons. For one thing, logicism has not been demonstrated to be true, so we cannot assume that if the Goldbach conjecture is false, it is false due to the violation of some logical law like the principle of non-contradiction, let alone self-contradiction. Furthermore, even if logicism were true, it would not follow that all false expressions in mathematics would be false because of self-contradiction (containing its own contradiction). It could be false because, while it is self-consistent, it contradicts the truth of some other mathematical fact separate from what it expresses.
3. Suppose that the Goldbach Conjecture were to be discovered to contain a self-contradiction. I maintain that it would have to be rejected on account of this self-contradiction and not because the truth of other mathematical facts serve as counter-evidence to it. I maintain this because of the principle of explosion. If the Goldbach Conjecture were logically self-contradictory, no mathematical fact could possibly be a counter-example of the conjecture, since all mathematical truths and falsities would follow from it. If you want to reject this in favor of some paraconsistent logic, then you would be saddling the evil-god challenge with a rather controversial view of logic. . . one which must bracket off some rather intuitively obvious rules of valid inferences.
4. You also write, “So, back to the Evil God. That the Classical Theist holds that an Evil God is an anti-theorem does not make it so.” This is true, but if the “evil god” challenge is to engage the classical theist, it is the burden of the person putting forth the challenge to either prove that the classical theist’s conception of good and evil does not result in a relevant asymmetry, or that the classical theist’s conception of good and evil is not logically possible. So long as it is both logically possible and results in a relevant asymmetry between the good God and evil god, the evil-god challenge fails to apply to all forms of theism. In fact, it would fail to apply to a very large branch of theism.

Daniel V said...

*That should be 3, not 1 and 3. I see that you do say "greater than 2".

Tony Lloyd said...

Hi Daniel V

As you point out, assuming “1” is not prime, the “Goldbach Conjecture” I mis-quoted is false. Whether it leads to a contradiction or not, I don’t know. I suspect it does but don’t have the foggiest how to show that.

But doesn’t this uncertainty lead to a problem for your point 3? If it does lead to a contradiction your point 3 implies that I should refrain from rejecting it other than on account of that contradiction. I don’t know that it contains a contradiction and, even if it does, don’t know what that contradiction is. So I cannot reject it on account of that contradiction, so I shouldn’t reject it at all even though I know it to be false.

My last point arose from my coming to realise that the Classical Theist can “escape” the Evil God Challenge but only by rendering it superfluous. The Evil God Challenge arises where the theist rejects the logical necessity of an absence of evil for the existence of God. Failing to reject that brings Epicurus back on board!

The Classical Theist can, of course, redefine Good and Evil so that, say, childhood bone cancer is “Good” or, at least, “not Evil”. But not only is this concept of good not what the rest of us mean when we hear the term, it is in conflict with the impression that The Church (Feser is a Catholic) seeks give as to what it means by “good”.

Daniel V said...

Tony Lloyd,

The challenge cannot be met all at once. The first step is to demonstrate asymmetry. Once that is established, I think some of the theodicies are back in play.

-Daniel

Anonymous said...

Law, can't you make a "good" god challenge to Feser, and say that god is good, but that this goodness means that god is omnimanevolent instead of omnibenevolent?

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