Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Skeptical theism and divine lies: The McBrayer/Swenson response to Wielenberg

Here's a draft (to be deleted shortly) for comments...

Skeptical Theism and Divine Lies: The McBrayer/Swenson response to Wielenberg

1. Skeptical Theism

Evidential arguments from evil often[i] take something like the following form:

If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist.
Gratuitous evil exists.
Therefore, God does not exist

Gratuitous evil is evil for which there is no God-justifying reason. Why suppose gratuitous evil exists? Well, we observe great evils for which we can identify no God-justifying reason. Thus, it is suggested, it’s reasonable to believe gratuitous evil exists.

The skeptical theist challenges the reasoning offered in support of the second premise. True, we are sometimes justified in inferring that there are no Fs on the basis that there do not appear to be any Fs. I am justified in believing there are no elephants in my garage if there do not appear to be any elephants. But such Noseeum Inferences (REF), as they are known, aren’t always sound. I am not justified in supposing there are no insects in my garage just because there do not appear to me to be any. Given my perceptual limitations, there could, for all I know, still be insects present. But then, given my cognitive limitations, there could, for all I know, be God-justifying reasons for the evils I observe despite the fact that I cannot identify any. I am not in a position to claim with any confidence either that such reasons exist, or that they do not. According to the skeptical theist, the probability that such reasons exist is inscrutable to me. But then I must withhold judgement on whether the second premise is true.

Skeptical theists sometimes draw a chess analogy. We are, it is suggested, like chess novices trying to comprehend why a Chess Grand Master has made the move she has. Given our cognitive limitations relative to the Chess Grand Master, the fact that the novices cannot think of a good reason for Grand Master’s move does not make it reasonable for them to believe there is no reason. Similarly, given our cognitive limitations relative to God, the fact that we cannot think of a God-justifying reason for the evils we observe does not make it reasonable for us to believe there is no reason.

As McBrayer and Swenson, two exponents of skeptical theism, point out, the skeptical theist’s applies not just to evils, but to any feature of the universe we might observe. Our inability to think of a God justifying reason for X, where X is some observed feature of the universe, is no reason to think that there is no such reason. Thus, according to McBrayer and Swenson, “we are not in a position to make all-things-considered judgements about what the world would be like if there were a God.” (REF) According to McBrayer and Swenson,

“What a sceptical theist is committed to… is a general scepticism about our knowledge of what God would do in any particular situation. We don’t think that atheists or theists can say with any serious degree of confidence why God does what he does or why he would or wouldn't do a certain thing.” (REF)

2. Skeptical theism and knowledge of God’s goodness

As McBrayer and Swenson acknowledge, skeptical theism threatens many popular arguments for the existence of the God of traditional monotheism. How are we to know that, not only is there an omnipotent and omniscient creator of the universe, but that this creator is good? Not, according to these authors, by observing the universe and drawing conclusions about the moral character of God on that basis. Skeptical theism has the consequence that what we observe of the universe and what goes on in it gives us no clue as to the moral character of our creator, if any.

Michael Bergmann, another skeptical theist, concurs that arguments for God’s goodness based on identifying something as an all-considered good are undermined by skeptical theism. According to Bergmann, anyone who considers the order we see in the natural world or the joy we witness in people’s lives give us reason to think that there is a good being who is the cause of such things is failing to take into account the lessons of skeptical theism. (2009 p.617)

However, all these authors are quick to point out that the fact that this particular route to justified belief in God’s goodness is blocked by skeptical theism does rule out our possessing justified belief in God’s goodness by some other route. Alternative ways by which we might come to hold such a reasonable belief presumably include divine revelation and perhaps also some other form of inference not vulnerable to skeptical theism. As Bergmann says: “We needn’t conclude … that the skeptical theist’s skepticism is inconsistent with every way of arguing for the existence of a good God.” 2009, pREF

3. Wielenberg on Divine Lies

In his paper “Skeptical Theism and Divine Lies” (2009), Erik Wielenberg points out what appears to be an interesting and, for many theists, deeply worrying consequence of skeptical theism. If the fact that we cannot think of a justification for a given evil fails to justify the belief that no such justification exists, then the fact that we cannot think of a justification for God lying to us fails to justify the belief that no such justification exists. If skeptical theism is true, then the probability that God is lying to us is also inscrutable to us. But then, according to Wielenberg, skeptical theism has the consequence that, for all we know know, God’s word constitutes not divine revelation but rather a justified, divine lie.

And this in turn implies that skeptical theism is at odds with any religious tradition according to which there are certain claims that we can know to be true solely in virtue of the fact that God has told us they are true. (2009 p509)

Such claims appear to include, for example, the Christian claim that all who believe in Christ will have eternal life. A Christian who, in response to the problem of evil, expresses skepticism about our ability to discern what reasons God might have to allow evil, but, in response to God’s utterances, fails to be similarly skeptical about our ability to discern what reasons might have to lie to us, is would appear to be employing their skepticism in an inconsistent and partisan way.

4. McBrayer and Swenson’s response to Wielenberg

In response to Weilenberg’s argument, McBrayer and Swenson maintain that, for the mainstream religious folk who employ skeptical theism to deal with the problem of evil, Wielenberg’s argument, “is not as scary as it first appears”. The skeptical theist should grant the possibility of divine lies. However,

(o)ther things being equal, God would, of course, tell us only what was true. This isn’t an all-things-considered judgement but a ceteris paribus one. Only the former is off limits according to sceptical theism. But since we’re in no position to determine whether or not the ceteris paribus clause is met, we should allow that it is possible that God is lying to us.

McBrayer and Swenson’s thought here seems to be that, given that we know that, ceteris paribus, God would tell us the truth, it’s reasonable for us to believe what he tells us. True, given skeptical theism, we cannot know, all things considered, whether or not that ceteris paribus clause is met. But this is to acknowledge only the possibility of God lying to us. If we know that, other things being equal, God would tell the truth, we can remain justifiably confident about the truth of his pronouncements, just as we can justifiably remain confident about the pronouncements of other people even while acknowledging the possibility that they are lying, as McBrayer and Swenson go on to explain:

People have deceived us in the past. And in many cases, we simply can’t tell whether they are being deceitful in any given instance. And yet we think it’s perfectly rational to accept the testimony of such people. Thus it is appropriate to accept testimony in general even though we know that it is possible the testimony is misleading. Given this epistemic fact, it is also appropriate to accept the testimony of God even though we know that it is possible that God is deceiving us.” (McBrayer and Swenson, p148, see also McBrayer ST 2010 617

5. Why McBrayer and Swenson’s response to Wielenberg fails

Consider McBrayer and Swenson’s claim that

(G) Ceteris paribus: God would tell us only what is true

How should this claim to be understood? Ceteris paribus claims often take the form of generalizations that license predictions. Consider:

(T) Ceteris paribus: cats live more then six years

The suggestion here is that as a general rule (more often than not, setting aside just a few exceptions) cats live more then six years. Thus understood, (T) licenses predictions. It allows me justifiably to conclude that my cat Tiddles will, or will probably, live more than six years (assuming, of course, that I have reason to believe or suspect that the ceteris paribus condition is not met).

However, ceteris paribus claims don’t always license predictions. Consider:

(J) Ceteris paribus, John would be naked at home

Note the subjunctive mood of what follows the ceteris paribus clause. (J) would not usually be understood to license the prediction that, as John is home, he is, or is probably, naked. It might well be the case that, though, other things being equal, John would be naked at home, other things rarely are equal. Perhaps, though being naked is John’s strong preference, John does not live alone and so, out of courtesy to his easily offended cohabitees, he usually remains clothed.

Let’s now return to McBrayer and Swenson’s (G) and ask: how should (G) to be understood?

Given the subjunctive mood of what follows the ceteris paribus clause, it appears (G) does not allow us to conclude that God usually, for the most part, tells the truth. Even granted (G), God’s telling the truth may be the exception rather than the rule.

But then, thus understood, it is hard to see how (G) provides McBrayer and Swenson with the basis for an effective response to Wielenberg. Suppose we know God is good. Then perhaps we can know that, when other things are equal, God tells us only the truth. However, Wielenberg’s point is that if skeptical theism is true then, for all we know, things rarely are equal. But then, (G) fails to provide us with any grounds for trusting what God says. It’s not merely possible God lies regularly. For all any of us know, God does lie regularly. (G) no more justifies our believing that, as God asserts that P, P is, or is probably, true than (J) justifies our believing that, as John’s home, John is, or is probably, naked.

But perhaps, despite employing the subjunctive mood, McBrayer and Swenson do nevertheless intend (G) to be understood as asserting or supporting a generalization about what God will do: as a general rule, for the most part, setting aside a few exceptions, if God asserts that P then P is true. But if that is how (G) should be understood, then it’s hard to see how McBrayer and Swenson can know (G) is true. Wielenberg’s point is that if skeptical theism is true, then none of us are in a position to know what God would do. But then none of us are in a position to know that God usually tells the truth.

True, it’s usually reasonable to trust other people. The possibility that they are lying to us should not lead us to distrust what they say. But Weilenberg’s point is not that, if skeptical theism is true, then it is possible that God is lying to us. It is that of skeptical theism is true then for all we know God is lying to us. So skeptical theism has the consequence that we should distrust what God says. Skeptical theism does not justify a similar scepticism about what other people say because it does not have the consequence that, for all we know, other people are lying to us. As McBrayer and Swenson point out (p 145), I have no reason to suppose other human beings have access to a potential range of action-justifying reasons that I, given my own human cognitive limitations, cannot access. Moreover, I have good inductive evidence that other humans do generally tell the truth. Thus, given skeptical theism, it remains reasonable for me to believe what other people tell me, but not what God tells me.

[i] Not all arguments from evil have this form. For an important exception, see Paul Draper’s version of the argument presented in his 1989 paper “Pain and Pleasure: An Evidential Problem for Theists.” Nous 23: 331-50. Reprinted in Howard-Snyder, Daniel (ed.) 1996 The Evidential Argument From Evil Bloomington: Indiana University Press: 12-29.


sam said...

In section 2:

"However, all these authors are quick to point out that the fact that this particular route to justified belief in God’s goodness is blocked by skeptical theism does [] rule out our possessing justified belief in God’s goodness by some other route. "

You want a "does NOT" there.

Steven Carr said...

'We are, it is suggested, like chess novices trying to comprehend why a Chess Grand Master has made the move she has.'

What Grandmaster are we observing the moves of in this analogy of skeptical theists?

A grandmaster wins games.

What games has the Christian god won in this analogy?

It is also Christians who claim that things like abortion are unmitigated evils , for which there can be no justification.

'“What a sceptical theist is committed to… is a general scepticism about our knowledge of what God would do in any particular situation.'

You mean we can't say whether or not the Christian god would have left Jesus to rot in the ground or prevent the authors of the Bible from making mistakes?

Surely the Bible is full of claims that this hypothetical god would do things like lead me to still waters, support me when things go wrong etc etc

Steven Carr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I don't have any comments, just a question;

Isn't the "all other things being equal" position just a subtle way of "effing the ineffable?"

Anonymous said...

Is the skeptical theist's response a defeater for theistic (but not deistic) belief itself?

Tony Lloyd said...

Isn't it simpler than that? If we can hold that:

(G) Ceteris paribus: God would tell us only what is true

We can also hold that:

(K) Ceteris paribus: God would not [kill thousands by means of a Tsunami].


(K') Ceteris paribus: God would not [have created juvenile bone cancer.]

and so on.

More, with such a huge amount of things to put in the square brackets we can be confident that, for some of them, the ceteris paribus condition does hold.


McBrayer and Swenson and could argue that we do have good reason to rely on God's word without the good inductive evidence of honesty that we have with humans because (ceteris paribus) lying is wrong.

But this undermines the chess argument or, rather, shows the bit that's missing. We don't need to know loads to know that some things are wrong (as opposed to "not right"). We may not be able to say that

L). the Grandmaster made a bad move sacrificing his pawn,

but we do know that he is wrong
when he

M) takes a pawn off before it reaches the 8th rank and replaces it with a queen.

The justifying reasons of "L" are not known in their entirety and are, potentially, infinite. The justifications in "M" are tightly circumscribed. "L" may, or may not, have adequate justification but "M" is just wrong.

And doesn't McBrayer and Swenson's argument depend on the justifications / ceteris paribus being tightly circumscribed so that they can be confident that it's unlikely to, frequently, come into play?

But doesn't the "we don't know God's justifictions" solely act on L-type judgements?

wombat said...

A minor quibble, (Which may be down to a misunderstanding on my part) with the cat example

"Ceteris paribus: cats live more then six years"

Does not seem quite right - "All other things remaining equal, cats live more than six years"

Not really - (a) even if we isolated all the cats in the world from hazard and raised them in identical conditions we would still reasonably expect some to expire early - we are making all else equal not the cats themselves (b) in any case we might take the view that we simply equalize the hazards for all cats to give an averagely risky existence. Some cats will still meet with misfortune before 6 years.

I think you might be able to say "usually" or "are expected to live more than 6 years on average". As it stands "cats live more than 6 years" is simply not true for all cats or any given cat unless its already had a 6th birthday.

Rabbie said...

The idea that God wilfully leads astray and deceives people in order to damn them is part of orthodox theism, not some aberration of it.

The presiding entity of the Koran declares that "Allah is the best of deceivers". It is a familiar trope in Abrahamic religion. Jesus twice, in Mark 4:12 and Matthew 13:13 says that He speaks in parables expressly so that some might remain unsaved, and references similar thoughts in the book of Isaiah. The author of that text probably had in mind YHWH "hardening Pharoah's heart" during the plagues of Egypt, and setting him up to fail horrifically via divine mind-control.

Proponents of the God of Philosophy will have to do some fancy hermeneutics to overcome Bible God's open contempt for human free will as manifested in these verses.

Anonymous said...

" It is that of skeptical theism is true then for all we know God is lying to us."

Should be "It is that if skeptical..

The Atheist Missionary said...

"the skeptical theist’s [approach?]applies not just to evils"

"Wielenberg’s point is that if skeptical theism is true, then none of us are in a position to know what God would do. But then none of us are in a position to know that God usually tells the truth." Isn't the skeptical theist's easy way out of this dilemma to respond by suggesting that, if God is lying to them, it's for their own good - so they don't care whether they are being lied to or not? Problem solved. Hallelujah. Praise the Lord ...

Philip Rand said...

Dr Law

First, I should write that I enjoy your blog (I especially enjoyed your "Measurement" paper).

My comments unfortunately can only be made in brief (I am aware of the complexity of the problem you are attempting to explore).

Now, if your book is designed for, your "in-group" audience (as Rauser commented as of late)...then I see no problem with your draft thesis.

However, if you are attempting to push the frontiers of knowledge in this area...I do see a problem.

Mainly, for two reasons:

1/ You are using practical reasoning to prove your thesis.

Unfortunately, practical reasoning techniques mean that the seed of the answer one wants is seeded in the question posed.

2/ The two variables Good/Evil God are second-order variables.

In truth the first-order variable God is not addressed, here I am thinking that such a first-order variable be composed of a single ontological component and two causal components.

Modelled like this both the Good God and the Evil God first-order variables are the same.

They differ only in second-order. One could posit that this second-order difference is simply an example of information redundancy of the first-order variable.

And this is your problem...you are trying to use second-order variables to undermine the first-order variable that both the Good God and Evil God share equally.

So, in truth you have not touched the God issue at all.

This is really simplistic but this is what you appear to be doing (at least to me)...

Say, the first-order variable is an equation that adds up to 1 using some positive integers...let's say the result 1 is for the Good God.

Now, to prove the existence of the Evil God you use the same equation and same numbers but simply use their negative values...the result is then -1...for the Evil God.

You then add the two results together and voila...you get 0, i.e. no God existing.

This is what you appear to be doing...and it doesn't work because you have not addressed the first-order variable, i.e the equation.

Now, before you accuse me of smoke-screening, nuclear option, etc. I can assure you this is not the case...I am simply withholding that information...just to see what kind of philosopher you are...

Because, I do know that in the world of intellectual ideas, be they in philosophy or in science...no quarter is ever given!

Philip Rand said...

Dr Law

If you get a moment of relaxation give a listen to yesterdays Melvyn Bragg's "In Our Time".

The topic was Pascal...Pascal's model of the Human condition, i.e. the human condition is being like people being chained in dungeon and every now and again a jailor comes in to the dungeon and strangles one of the prisoners...

You might find it useful...

Philip Rand said...

Actually Dr Law

If you analyse as clearly as possible your thought model concerning insects in your garage (because in many respects this is the crux of the issue...this model is a very good model)...though it would be a subtle and complex model...

But if you used it to explain why the statement:

"Nature likes to hide."

Permeates our language...then this may help you discern between reason and evidence...

This model may or may not be a solution...but it could possibly point towards a direction of more research...

Stephen Law said...

Thanks someone else mentioned that prog to me. will listen...

Anonymous said...

How about this?

Creation is reccreation or play of God. It is His nature, just as it is man's nature to breath. Creating the world for any incentive slanders the wholeness and perfection of Ishvara. Creating the world for gaining something is against His perfection. Creating the world out of compassion is illogical, since the emotion of compassion cannot arise in a blank and void world in the beginning, when only Ishvara existed

Philip Rand said...

Dr Law

I was thinking about the impasse in the McBrayer and Swenson’s/Wielenberg model, i.e. is there a way around it?

Perhaps one exists.

I visit Las Vegas every now and again (during conferences, I might add)...Las Vegas has got to be one of the weirdest places in the world (nothing is real there).

Anyway, once while walking along the street I looked at a wall of a building...now, the wall looked a first sight like a concrete wall (this is what my eyes told me)...but knowing what Las Vegas is like I walked up to the wall and knocked on it using my fist...

Sure enough, the wall was constructed out of glass fibre and not concrete!

This raises two interesting questions:

1/ Was the wall lying to me when I looked at it in the first instance?

2/ Was the wall telling me the truth when I knocked on it?

Remember, here the qualitative question I was asking was:

"What material Mr Wall are you made out of?"

Clearly, the wall was neither telling my senses the truth nor a lie.

What the wall was "communicating" to me via my senses was simply a minimum of intrinsic information about itself to me...when I asked the question about its construction.

And perhaps this is one solution to the model...the issue isn't about truth and falsity...it simply is saying that for any question about the world the answer one gets (i.e. the measurement, evidence) is always a minimum.

And this is because "Nature likes to hide", i.e. it hoards information...

So what appears to be a truth/falsity function is illusory...

I mean, one could use the Crete Liar Paradox...here:

"The following statement is true. The preceding statement is false."

Now, Wittgenstein would say...yes, but what are you pointing at...and so on, and so...

But, if one adjusted this paradox to read:

"The following statement contains the maximum amount of information. The preceding statement contains a minimum of information."

Then perhaps one can use this idea to approach this lying/truth telling or Good/Evil God issue...


Philip Rand said...

Tony Lloyd

Your point concerning the McBrayer and Swenson chess model makes a very good point.

In their chess model they assume that their model is as valid to God as it is to Nature...

This I think shows an anomaly in the model as you point out.

Because, like you write the "rules" of chess are external to the game when played.

So, the issue concerns not so much a good or bad move...but rather "is the move a legal move".

Now, if the chess master happens to be the chap who invented chess, then one could say that any move he makes is a legal move...

But if he isn't the chap who invented chess then the chess master has to know the rules of chess to play chess...and if he makes an illegal move...then he isn't playing chess...

My view, is that their model when applied to God really shows the limits of a materialistic approach to this issue, i.e. you can't use a materialistic approach to Nature, let alone the God thingy...

They are saying in their model that God is an object that interacts with other objects according to "rules" that are below the "game"...in their model the God object has to obey these rules...I think something is wrong here...it doesn't work for their conception of God...though it does work for the way Nature interacts, i.e. Laws of Nature.

The following can be related to my post above.

Say, you are watching two chaps playing at a game of chess...and say you don't know the rules of the game but as you watch you slowly discern a structure, i.e. moves are alternating between the chaps, particular pieces move in a certain way consistently, etc.

The thing is, as you watch, you would be unaware that the players are playing according to the "rules" of chess...you only see the emergence of these rules locally and piecemeal, i.e. only when a move is made by a player...

For you are not aware of the totality of the rules of chess, though the players are...BUT, each move in the game "activates" one of these chess rules, i.e. it makes the rules of chess become real in the world...and this only happens when a move is made by a player.

So, you could think of the totality of the rules of chess being Platonic (I don't like the word on account of the baggage), i.e. these rules are out there whether you are watching a chess game or not...but, they only become real when you observe two people playing chess.

So, think of the chess game as two physically real objects interacting with each other in the world...and you are the observer...

The really key point though in the chess model is not really the rules of chess BUT rather how the information exchange between the two players occurs, i.e. it is always a minimum, i.e. each player does not tell the other player his intentions, he just makes a single move...i.e. he gives the other player only a minimum of information to the other player at the other players request of information from him, i.e. to make a move.

This is really the crucial point, i.e. information exchange between objects in the universe is ALWAYS a minimum...this is the deterministic part of the universe.

Philip Rand said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

@Philip Rand

First, I should write that I enjoy your blog (I especially enjoyed your "Measurement" paper).

My comments unfortunately can only be made in brief (I am aware of the complexity of the problem you are attempting to explore).

...Unfortunately, ...as in: "I have unfortunately not enough time available"....?
And you then goes on with several quite wordy comments both to Stephen and others......? :-)

Half the lies they tell about me are true

Philip Rand said...

Well Anonymous...

One could think of a blog as a "conversation"...and conversation is an "art" that uses "words".

And yes, you are correct when you write (you have cottoned on to my "wordy" expositions:

"Half the lies they tell about me are true"...a perfect example of "minimum information exchange" !!!

Philip Rand said...


Your quote where is says:

"Creating the world out of compassion is illogical, since the emotion of compassion cannot arise in a blank and void world..."

Is an interesting point because it is essentially saying that it is non-moral properties that the Good/Evil God properties supervene.

So does this mean, that one could determine the moral properties of this Good/Evil God thingy using these non-moral properties?

And where would one look?

Is it possible to use the Laws of Nature to do this?

I think, that maybe it is possible...

For instance, if one replaces "God" with "Primordial Origin" and posit that this object interacts with the world through means of "Efficient causation" and "Final causation"...i.e. the laws of nature...perhaps this is where one would start to determine the non-moral properties of this God thingy?

Philip Rand said...

I suppose, the first thing one should do in setting up the problem...is to first decide what is the best model to answer the question:

"What is reality?"

Now, this is a minefield...there are so many definitions around (a bit like what is life?)

I mean Dr Law, in your Faraday lecture your first slide was problematical...

For example...

Does Japan exist (i.e. real)?

Well, whether Japan exists or not is entirely dependent on what constitutes "reality".

I mean, if I say "reality" is independent of humans and is composed of the sub-atomic world...

Then, Japan does not exist, i.e. it isn't real...

However, if I use the definition that "reality" is simply stuff that just won't go away...then one could say that Japan exists (i.e. it is real).

I am not entirely clear as to what definition of reality you are using Dr Law in your thesis...

Choosing what one considers to be "real" in the world is surely the first step...especially if one is going to look at the non-moral aspects of this God thingy...

Philip Rand said...

Dr Law

I think I can see your reasoning behind this Good/Evil God thingy thesis...and it is a clever...

The way to discern it...is to go back to the general model:

1/ Primordial Origin
2/ Efficient Causation
3/ Final Causation

What is interesting here is to find what is common to atheist and theist belief.

Firstly, both atheist and theist believe in a Primordial Origin, i.e. Big Bang and God respectively.

Secondly, both atheist and theist believe in Efficient Causation, i.e. this is how the world works

It is only with Final Causation that the atheist and theist diverge, i.e. atheists don't believe in it and theists do...

Now, I wouldn't say the concept of Final Causation (teleology) is necessarily a theistic belief...

I mean, the Greeks believed in it...and scientifically the concept was only jettisoned in the 20th century...though physicists like Max Born were perplexed by it...this is why Born said that doing theoretical physics was doing philosophy...

Though, this idea of Final Causation is slowly entering science again, i.e. information-physics, convergent evolution, selfish gene concept jettisoned to group selection, etc.

Possibly, Horganism is a result of science turning its back on Final Causation.

Which means, that your thesis is a philosophical statement to the non-existence of Final Causation in the Universe.

This makes sense, because in cosmology...the most accepted theory to the end of the universe is Heat Death (here de Broglie would say that the present universe is in heat death all ready).

So, the direction the universe is aiming for is "nothingness", i.e. no purpose.

So your thesis is the philosophical twin of the scientific thesis...it is the scientific theory that provides the grounding of your thesis (nothing wrong with this science should inform philosophy and visa versa).

But, there is a problem with this model...recent calculations from the LHC indicate that the universe is not going to end in Heat Death...rather the mass of the Higgs is such that it will one day quantum tunnel to a low energy level and destroy this universe...most probably creating something different (probably something boring...BUT it doesn't remove communication in the universe from continuing...

Now, I think this result takes the ground away from your thesis.

Mainly, because one could argue that the universe does have purpose, i.e. the big bang was a quest for knowledge (i.e. complexity, etc.)...this is what the Heat Death scenario would remove, i.e. no purpose.

But, with the LHC result the door on this belief is closed.

Clearly, none of this proves or disproves the existence of this God thingy...

But, that it not your point is it?

Your thesis is to remove Final Causation...because if you don't then at base the grounding beliefs of both atheist and theist are the same!

It is simply that they use different words to describe Primordial Origin....

Interesting result...most interesting...

Philip Rand said...

"I am afraid that we're not rid of God because we still believe in grammar."


Words I am sure Dr Law (as you climb mountains like Nietzsche) can relate...

BUT, they do point as I once wrote, that the best tools to use in this issue...are Wittgenstein methods, i.e. technically very sweet.

His methods in the Tractatus would work quite well here, because essentially the Tractatus is an ethical work...this allows one to model the "mystical" as the "ethical".

TT said...

Philip, your first comment to Stephen, God being a first order variable, good/evil being second order etc. You note that the argument does not touch God itself but only addresses the second order variables good and evil.

As I understand it, this is not intended to be an argument against a God existing. It is an argument against an all good God existing. It is a refutaion of the usual formulation of God's properties as defined by Christians. It doesn't attempt to show there are no gods, only that the all-good god of Christianity is on very shaky ground.

Philip Rand said...


I take your point.

However, if one looks at the conclusion of Dr Law's thesis from a God perspective.

It is clear that if God looked into the mind of a believer he would not recognise himself.

Now, that is an interesting conclusion...

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Anonymous said...

Thanks for the writing.
It's not so much that "For all we know, God has a justification for doing or allowing x. We cannot know that he doesn't; therefore, we believe He does."

It's more like this: We have reason to trust God already. If you want to present evidence that God is untrustworthy, then by all means present it. But such evidence cannot be the existence of suffering, b/c we're not ever gonna be smart enough to know the intricacies of what's going on with suffering and the immense web of cause and effect in the universe throughout all of time with every single particle affecting every other particle. So if you're gonna present evidence of God's untrustworthiness, then you'll need something else.

Thank you,