Friday, November 29, 2013

The Evil God Challenge and the "classical" theist's response

On another blog, FideCogitActio, some theists of a "classical" stripe (that's to say, like Brian Davies, Edward Feser) are criticisng the Evil God Challenge (or I suppose, trying to show how it can be met, or sidestepped). The main post includes this:

In book I, chapter 39, Aquinas argues that “there cannot be evil in God” (in Deo non potest esse malum). Atheists like Law must face the fact that, if the words are to retain any sense, “God” simply cannot be “evil”. As my comments in the thread at Feser’s blog aimed to show, despite how much he mocks “the privation theory of evil,” Law himself cannot escape its logic: his entire argument requires that the world ought to appear less evil if it is to be taken as evidence of a good God. Even though he spurns the idea that evil is a privation of good, his account of an evil world is parasitic on a good ideal; this is no surprise, though, since all evil is parasitic on good (SCG I, 11). Based on the conclusions of several preceding chapters, Aquinas contends that ”God is goodness, and not simply good [Deus autem est bonitas, non solum bonus]. There cannot, therefore, be any non-goodness in Him. Thus, there cannot possibly be evil in God.” He adds that

“since God is His own being, nothing can be said of Him by participation…. If, then, evil is said of God, it will not be said by participation, but essentially. But evil cannot be so said of anything as to be its essence, for it would lose its being, which is a good (Sic autem malum de nullo dici potest ut sit essentia alicuius: ei enim esse deficeret, quod bonum est)….”
This exposes one of the other key defects of Law’s notion of an evil God: insofar as that “god” would be the cause of all lesser evils, it would be the most evil thing, but the more evil a thing is, the less substantial, the less existent it is, and thus the less potent it is. If Law wants to take seriously the theological terms which he’s trying to hoist by their own petard, he would have to agree that a maximally evil god is not only ontologically incoherent, but also the worst possible candidate for being The Creator of All (though I am anticipating the upcoming argument). God could not be essentially evil, and thus could not be the exemplary evil which grounds the evil of all created things. As we already knew, Law is just blowing smoke.



My responses thus far:

You have missed the point, just as Feser did, which is that it makes no difference to the EGC whether or not an evil god is an incoherent concept. As I spelt out repeatedly (on both Feser’s bog and also in my original paper): if you would rule out an evil god *in any case* just on the basis of the amount of good that exists notwithstanding any conceptual incoherence involved in the concept (which was not even established, but hey ho) then you should rule out the good god on the same basis. At least deal with my argument rather than a straw man.

Feser’s response to the EGC is probably the weakest I have come across – it’s actually dealt with in my paper, which he clearly did not even bother to read properly. A better response, thought still inadequate, is to try sceptical theism (as Craig, in effect, did).

I wonder which “classical” position you personally have in mind, given I’ve come across several variants. Perhaps something like this one: if your God can unleash vast and horrific suffering for no good reason whatsoever (other than it’s God’s non-personal nature to do so) and yet still qualify as “good” as you define the term, then the problem of evil is solved!

To this I now add:

The "evil is a privation" move might appear to solve the problem of evil at a stroke - define "good" such that what God creates - the cosmic cheese, as it were - is always "good", and define "evil" as holes or "privations" in that cheese, and voila: no problem of evil! "Hey that young kid's slow and horrific death by cancer is just a privation of good, so no evidence against theism there!" But of course this does not really deal with the problem. The holes in the cheese clearly exist, and were created by God, and we might ask why the cosmic cheesemaker made them, and indeed made them so horrifically large.

What if "good" is defined thinly, such that "good" applies trivially to God plus whatever God creates, no matter how horrific and agonizing it might be. This suggestion deals with the problem of evil, though in a way that will probably leave a lot of Christians, etc. somewhat perplexed (and perhaps concerned about  questions such as: (i) Why should an impersonal cosmic sluice through which all stuff pours - all of which qualifies by definition as "good" no matter how agonizing and pestilential much or even all of it happens to be - deserve our worship? (ii) Would someone's [e.g. Jesus] having gone round behaving like Caligula [or Satan] be any evidence at all against his being divinely "good" [apparently not!]).

We should be on the look out for some "moving the semantic goalposts" here. As defined above "good", is a pretty thin notion. Once the theist attempts to give more substance to the concept of divine "goodness" (beyond saying e.g. "good" = God and whatever he does), the evidential problem of evil is likely to re-emerge.

E.g. is God's "goodness" a sound basis for supposing he won't constantly lie to and deceive us for no benevolent reason"? If not, how can the theist reasonably believe any divine pronouncement or revelation? If so, why is God's "goodness" not similarly a sound basis for supposing God won't unleash untold agony for no benevolent reason [which re-introduces the problem of evil])?

The temptation for the theist caught in this dilemma will be to assert the content when it suits them ("But of course God doesn't lie regularly - he is good!") but then whip it away whenever the problem of evil raises its threatening head ("Oh how unsophisticated of you - you fail to realize I refer to God in the classical sense!")

446 comments:

1 – 200 of 446   Newer›   Newest»
Philip Rand said...

Dr Law

One reason why the "Evil God" is less likely than the "Good God" hypothesis in your model is because of Unitarity. (If given, one wants to look at this problem of the God thingy...I am only commenting on your theoretical (theological, heee,heee,he) model.

Unitarity is the reason why the universal coefficients used in physics that define the universe (around 15 of them) cannot change overnight in the universe.

(I'm stuck at home on account of a car crash and injury last week...so don't worry I am not "stalking"...as soon as I get back to work...my posts will cease).

Jon Goulding said...

If one were to accept the argument (though I see no reason to) that the concept of an evil God is incoherent, could one not argue roughly as follows:
1. The concept of an evil God is incoherent.
2. There can be no instantiation of an incoherent concept.
3. Either God is good or he does not exist.
4. If God were good there would be no suffering in the world.
5. There is suffering in the world.
6. God does not exist.

I've only sketched this roughly. I've assumed, in claiming (4), that the concept of God includes omnipotence and omniscience. I've also assumed (re the Euthyphro problem) that 'good' is not simply defined as 'anything God does'.

Philip Rand said...

Interesting points Jon...very interesting...

Clearly, the concept of an Evil God is just as coherent as the concept of a Good God.

But, that is not the thrust of Dr Law's thesis...his thesis maintains that the "probability" of an Evil God or a Good God is 50/50.

Dr Law's model succeeds or fails on how one approaches the "relations" of Good and Evil.

It most probably can be shown that the the two propositional relations of either Good and Evil have nothing whatsover to do with whether that it is more reasonable to believe in a Good God rather than an Evil God.

Philip Rand said...

It would appear to me that his main problem concerns "intention" and that either of the God's intention has duration...this is a critical issue in his model that he does not address.

Mark Jones said...

I don't see the Evil God Challenge as proposing a 50/50 probability between the evil god and the good god. It's more that the evil god is dismissed as non-existent for 'obvious' reasons by (almost?) every monotheist, yet the arguments for a good god are not *sufficiently different* from the arguments for the evil god to bridge the gap from non-belief (in the evil god) to belief (in the good god).

I stand to be corrected, however!

Anonymous said...

Could the EG argument be run against someone who (1) subscribes to classical theism and (2) doesn't accept the premise that the amount of good in the world "rules out" the notion of an evil god? Suppose the classical theist concedes that the amount of good in the world is entirely consistent with the notion that an evil god exists, but he goes on to rule out the existence of an evil god on the grounds of conceptual incoherence discussed above. It doesn't seem to me as if it could be run in this case, but I'd be interested in hearing if anyone disagrees, and with seeing the grounds for the disagreement.

Steven Carr said...

FESER quotes Aquinas

“since God is His own being, nothing can be said of Him by participation…. If, then, evil is said of God, it will not be said by participation, but essentially. But evil cannot be so said of anything as to be its essence, for it would lose its being, which is a good

CARR
This is just a random mixture of words, making no sense.


FESER
This exposes one of the other key defects of Law’s notion of an evil God: insofar as that “god” would be the cause of all lesser evils, it would be the most evil thing, but the more evil a thing is, the less substantial, the less existent it is, and thus the less potent it is.


CARR
So Hitler existed less than Mother Teresa?

How can something be 'less existent' than something else?

The trouble with Feser is that he writes literally non-sense.

ebougis said...

Perhaps it's old-fashioned to link to the blog one is addressing, but doing so might have preempted Mr. Carr's current confusion: I, not Dr. Feser, authored the post in question. For the sake of clarity and fairness, here is the retort the reply to which Law seems to have "added" in this post:

"How do you define evil? How do you quantify it? If your case simply mouths the classical notion of evil, without accepting the larger assumptions involved in that notion, then it is incoherent. If, however, your case rejects that notion of evil, it is irrelevant, and borders on a straw man, since the classical theism which you claim to target is tied up with that notion et relata. “The irony,” as you might say."

http://ebougis.wordpress.com/2013/11/24/an-evil-god-is-the-least-of-your-worries/

Meanwhile, it is comical in the extreme (or just customarily self-important) to call the privation theory of evil (PTE) an implicitly novel "move", since PTE was a pillar of classical metaphysics millennia before Law tried to peddle his pet Bayesian gambit for atheism. If anything, it is Law's gambit that is the goal-shifting "move", since the problem of evil has always been ontological, not epistemological, still less probabilistic. Law is outraged that his quixotic attempt to square the circle simply will not get off the ground (hint: when people are still discussing Aquinas, Law's "argument" will be a footnote on a blog that might still be salvalgeable via the latest iteration of the Internet Archive), in much the same way a failed musician curses "the industry". Law's sophistical gambit is not worth the paper it's printed on, and the fact that the most attention it gets is via blogs, is all the evidence you need.

-- Codgitator

Steven Carr said...

My apologies for taking 'Feser's response' to mean that Feser wrote that quote.

I now know who really was churning out words without bothering to string them together to form meaningful sentences.

It remains the case that Law's positing of an evil god is a demonstration that there is no case for a wholly good god, assuming that people use the word 'good' to mean what it means in a dictionary, rather than to mean 'like a god', which fails the 'what do words really mean?' test.

Philip Rand said...

Steven...perhaps you meant no case for a "holy good god"....heee, heee...

I think the most important thing to realise is tha Aquina's is using "practical" reasoning rather than "theoretical" reasoning in his proof of a "Good God".

For instance:

1/ God exists; this is a theoretical question that is either true or false.

2/ God is good; this is "value" question, meaning the value is either Good or Bad, i.e. Evil.

Dr Law's model is similarily a practical reasoning model and not a theoretical reasoning model.

Dr Law does admit in his thesis that he is not arguing the existence or non-existence of a God, for him existence is a possibility. This he does because he recognises that this is a theoretical question.

His conclusion is that there is a 50/50 chance that God could be Evil. He is correct here because it is a value question, i.e. a practical reasoning model and not a question that answers whether a God exists.

This is because while truth-preserving rules used in theoretical reasoning exclude falsehood, goodness-preserving rules used in value questions DONOT exclude badness.

Dr Law has cottoned on to this fact. However, this fact makes the formulation of practical-reasoning enormously more difficult task than the formulation of theoretical reasoning.

Thing is...no philosopher has ever been able to determine how a practical-reasoning question should be properly formulated.

This is the reason endless debates concerning semantics are inevitable.

Philip Rand said...

But, it should be pointed out that Dr Law's practical result does not affect the existence or non-existence of a God...mainly because one cannot use the result of a "value" question to determine the result of a "theoretical" question...because the two types of questions have differing formulations.

You can try it...but if you do you are reaching and deceiving yourself because it isn't a "reasonable" thing to do.

Mr. X said...

"The "evil is a privation" move might appear to solve the problem of evil at a stroke - define "good" such that what God creates - the cosmic cheese, as it were - is always "good", and define "evil" as holes or "privations" in that cheese, and voila: no problem of evil! "Hey that young kid's slow and horrific death by cancer is just a privation of good, so no evidence against theism there!""

Nobody, as far as I'm aware, has been saying that. What people have been saying is that God, being omnipotent, eternal, etc., must have all qualities to the highest degree; that, since evil is a privation, an evil being cannot have all qualities to the highest degree, since insofar as it is evil it must be deficient in some quality; and that the idea of "an evil God" is therefore incoherent, in much the same way the idea of "a square circle" or "a married bachelor" is incoherent. Hence, saying that "for all we know, the universe might have been created by an evil God" is like saying that "for all we know, the next circle he draws might be square shaped" or "for all we know, this bachelor might have a wife".

Then again, I don't think we even need to go into classical theism to render the Evil God Challenge irrelevant. Nobody, as far as I'm aware, has actually said "look at all the nice things in the world -- it must have been created by a benevolent God!", or even "look at all the nice things in the world -- it can't have been created by an evil God!" What people have been saying is that "the existence of suffering and/or evil in the world is compatible with the existence of a benevolent God, which we believe because of X, Y and Z". If you want to argue that it's also compatible with the existence of an evil God, fine, go right ahead -- it doesn't actually make a difference to any theodicy I can recall reading. As long as the level of evil is also compatible with a good God, the theodicy has worked; if you want to argue that it isn't compatible, then you're basically just going over the argument from evil again, and talking about the possibility of evil Gods doesn't really add anything new.

Oliver Sudden said...

Half of this seems to boil down to 'God is good because Thomas Aquinas said so.' The other half seems to boil down to 'God is good because we define "good" to mean something that God is.'

Steven Carr said...

Of course, the idea of an evil god is not incoherent.

Unless you define 'good' as 'god-like', which fails the 'What do words mean?' test.

Always useful to ask yourself 'What do words mean?'.

But don't just take my word for it.

You can use a dictionary to check for yourself that 'good' is not defined as 'What is the Christian god like?'

Defining a circle as round does not fail the 'What do words mean?' test, so your analogy that a good god is like a round circle is a false analogy.

Steven Carr said...

Nor is there any more reason to think that a good god exists than to think that an evil god exists, as Law's Evil God thought experiment shows.


MR X
What people have been saying is that God, being omnipotent, eternal, etc., must have all qualities to the highest degree

CARR

'Must have ALL qualities'...

I like that must. It seems almost as though you have put in some effort to think about it.

Must have all qualities.....

Let's think of some qualities...

So your god is as fat as it is possible to get?

Infinitely fat? Fatter than Buddha, who was just not fat enough to be a god.

Unless you want to claim that being fat is simply a privation of thinness:-)

Stephen Law said...

Dear Mr X - (i) your first paragraph again misses the point made by me in my paper, on Feser's blog, and also in the blog post I refer to above that it actually matters little to the Evil God Challenge whether or not the Evil God hypothesis is incoherent (something that in any case has not been shown, especially not without reliance on dubious doctrines such as the privation view of evil which even many theists find highly implausible).

Your second paragraph reads "Nobody, as far as I'm aware, has actually said ..."look at all the nice things in the world -- it can't have been created by an evil God!"

And yet, since the dawn of theism, humanity has been plagued by the reverse worry: "Oh, look at all the evil - it can't have been made by a good God"! Which is precisely why they then tend to cook up e.g. theodicies.

If you want to say those theodicies work and so too do the reverse theodicies, you can do so - but in my experience most theists can see that the reverse theodicies are ludicrous, and in some cases downright comical. Getting them to see that was one main aim of the EGC, and clearly it has succeeded in giving many theists pause for thought (indeed, it has convinced some to give up their theism).

But of course a theist can just dig in and say no - *both* sets of theodicies are entirely successful! (despite the eye-watering implausibleness of that suggestion) This would seem to be your strategy. The only other person I am aware of taking this line is Glenn Peoples, so, unless you, Mr X, are he, you make two.

For such respondents, I need to back up my argument with an explanation of precisely why the theodicies fail - which can certainly be done. The problem with them is, of course, they are endlessly iterated and/or (in Popper's sense) ad hoc - much like Young Earth Creationist defences of YEC are. That's what most people intuitively recognize about the reverse theodicies in particular. They can just see that it's indeed absurd to believe in an evil God given the sheer scale of the good that exists, not withstanding the various gerrymandered mirror theodicies that might be cooked up (of course, whether this thought has ever occurred to them *previously* is beside the point).

Of course, very many theists recognized the deep inadequacy of the various theodicies long before the evil god challenge came along. Which is why they then go for e.g. sceptical theism, which I, and indeed they, consider vastly more plausible suggestion than saying, as you do: "Hey, *both* sets of theodicies work just fine!"

Sceptical theism also fails, I think I can show, but that's another story (paper under submission).

Stephen Law said...

By the way, your use of "compatible" suggests you think all the theist has to do to deal with the problem of evil is tell a story on which the existence of evil is logically consistent with the existence of a good God.

That's not the case, of course.

Mr. X said...

Steven Carr:

"I like that must. It seems almost as though you have put in some effort to think about it."

That's probably because I have.

"Let's think of some qualities...

So your god is as fat as it is possible to get?

Infinitely fat? Fatter than Buddha, who was just not fat enough to be a god.

Unless you want to claim that being fat is simply a privation of thinness:-)"


Not so much of thinness, but the concept of "fat" is pretty meaningless without having a prior concept of how a human body is supposed to be shaped. So indeed, being fat is a failure to properly instantiate the Form of Man.



Dr. Law:

"it actually matters little to the Evil God Challenge whether or not the Evil God hypothesis is incoherent"

Yes it does, because your Evil God Challenge requires there to be an equivalence between the common theodicies and your reverse theodicies. If the concept of an evil God is incoherent, then there's no such equivalence.

"that in any case has not been shown, especially not without reliance on dubious doctrines such as the privation view of evil which even many theists find highly implausible"

The privation view is a generally-accepted one in classical theism, which is what the OP was dealing with.

"By the way, your use of "compatible" suggests you think all the theist has to do to deal with the problem of evil is tell a story on which the existence of evil is logically consistent with the existence of a good God.

That's not the case, of course."


Why not? Say you believe in a good God because of what you read in the Bible, and someone comes along and challenges you with the problem of evil. All you need to do is show that the existence of evil is compatible with the existence of a good God such as found in the Bible, and hey presto, problem of evil defeated. It doesn't matter if the amount of evil in the world is *also* consistent with the existence of an evil God, or of no God at all. That still wouldn't touch your actual reason for belief, namely, what you read in the Bible.

Anonymous said...

"All you need to do is show that the existence of evil is compatible with the existence of a good God such as found in the Bible, and hey presto, problem of evil defeated."

That would defeat the logical problem of evil (which only requires a defense, such as a coherent story), but not the evidential problem of evil (which requires a theodicy).

Philip Rand said...

Hello Mr X

Your last post I think nails an extremely important point when you write:

"Say you believe in a good God because of what you read in the Bible...That still wouldn't touch your actual reason for belief, namely, what you read in the Bible."

Because, what is the Bible in essence?

Yes, it is a book containing knowledge about the world...BUT, this knowledge takes the form of revalatory truth.

What it isn't is scholarly truth which is not the same as revealed truth...scholarly truth leads somewhere, essentially it provides one with knowledge to do things, make things, etc. i.e. power.

And this is the problem...can one use scholarly means to attack something that is a revealed truth?

I don't think so because they both are speaking different languages.

The problem in the end boils down to an ethical dilemma for a Believer...is it ethical for a Christian say to defend his beliefs using scholarly means?

Because, scholarly means by definition means using "knowledge" means...and isn't knowledge the result of "original sin"?

So, it would appear to me that Christian apologists are using "Original Sin" to defend their beliefs...

This, I find odd...

Philip Rand said...

Conversly Mr X it is equally an ethical dilemma for an atheist apologist because taking Dr Law as an example...

He writes:

"Sceptical theism also fails, I think I can show, but that's another story (paper under submission)."

From here it is quite clear that though "reason" is a motivation for him...it isn't what he is prime aim is...

Because, let's not beat around the bush...his prime end is to use reason to destroy a way of life, i.e. Christianity. This is what he is interested in.

For him, Christianity is an Evil against "reason".

Thing is, is destruction ever good?

Is it perhaps a logical mistake to put a "value" on destruction?

Which is interesting because for you Mr X, Christianity is a Good (pleasure) and for Dr Law it is an Evil (pain).

Whatever is the case, what is quite clear is that what is occuring between you is a relation that is essentially a condition of "strife" or "conflict"...

The question is this then, does this conflict achieve anyting?

Certainly, one just has to look at this page of posts...and as the posts increase in number one can in a way see the reason why a conflict between Good (pleasure) and Evil (pain) is necessary.

This state of affairs between the two of you for me indicates that both Good and Evil are not things in themselves but rather "relations" and that these relations do have a "purpose".

Stephen Law said...


Hello Mr X

Me: "it actually matters little to the Evil God Challenge whether or not the Evil God hypothesis is incoherent"

You: Yes it does, because your Evil God Challenge requires there to be an equivalence between the common theodicies and your reverse theodicies.

My response: It requires no such specific equivalence and I say as much in the original paper. I have explained this many times, including on Feser’s blog and on the post referred to in this post, but let me have another go for you. Showing that the concept of x is incoherent does not mean there cannot be empirical evidence against it (or, if you prefer, evidence such that, were the hypothesis that x obtains not incoherent, x would in any case be ruled out empirically). Take William Lane Craig’s attack on the supposition that this universe has an infinite past. He claims to show that this concept is incoherent. But, whether or not such a past is conceptually incoherent, such a past is pretty conclusively ruled out in any case – by the empirical evidence which points to a Big Bang origin circa 13.75 billion years ago.

Now, similarly, whether or not the Evil God concept has been shown to be incoherent, an Evil God might be ruled empirically anyway – by observation of the amount of good that exists. But if this is the case (and obviously you’ll deny it, but if it is) then why isn’t a good God ruled out on much the same basis? That was the challenge I raised. Pointing out some alleged incoherence in the concept of an evil God does nothing to deal with that challenge.

Me: "By the way, your use of "compatible" suggests you think all the theist has to do to deal with the problem of evil is tell a story on which the existence of evil is logically consistent with the existence of a good God.

That's not the case, of course."

You: Why not? Say you believe in a good God because of what you read in the Bible, and someone comes along and challenges you with the problem of evil. All you need to do is show that the existence of evil is compatible with the existence of a good God such as found in the Bible, and hey presto, problem of evil defeated. It doesn't matter if the amount of evil in the world is *also* consistent with the existence of an evil God, or of no God at all. That still wouldn't touch your actual reason for belief, namely, what you read in the Bible.

My response: (i) as anon points out, you do indeed appear to have muddled up the logical and evidential problems of evil here. Your comment seems to address only the logical problem – yet I am running the evidential problem, or (ii) if you really are addressing the evidential problem, what you say appears obviously false, as what we read in books is regularly falsified by empirical observation … [though perhaps you are thinking of a kind of sceptical theist move here (on which its supposed to be enough to deal with the evidential problem to come up with some story that shows God and all the evil logically consistent, and then argue: given sceptical theism, for all we know this story is true) and/or Plantinga’s extended AC model of warrant (which might supply a way of neutralizing the problem of evil given one has had a certain special sort of experience whilst reading the Good Book– I’m really not sure].

L.Long said...

While reading the blog two points stuck out. 1-The assumption that our existence and gawd is 'good'.
Who says?? You-Me-Who?
2-The other is that if you take the post and swap the 'evil' with 'good' and the 'good' with 'evil' then the post is just as coherent and makes just as much sense.
So using the swiss cheese the 'cheese=evil' and the 'holes=good' so the good exists within the frame work of evil and gawd is logically evil and occasionally 'good' is performed in the matrix of 'evil'. And this fits the observed reality; not as good as 'there aint no gawd' but it fits better then 'gawd is good'.

Stephen Law said...

L.Long - I agree. Some evils are most naturally presented as privations of goods (blindness - absence of sight). But then some goods are most naturally presented as privations of evils (e.g. peace - absence of war, strife, etc.) The "privation" view of evil tries to make *all* evils come out as privations of goods, which runs into trouble with less plausible candidates like pointless excruciating agony - that's not plausibly just an absence or privation of something. One might similarly (and also implausibly) try to characterize all goods as privations as evils (happiness - and privation of misery; contentment - privation of strife, yearning, etc. etc.) Both "privation" views are, I think, pretty obviously wrong and the former is popular with philosophers only within certain very narrow religious circles for whom it often appears to be something like an article of faith (even many religious philosophers reject the view).

sam said...

Prof. Law,

Though I've read your blog posts on the EGC in the past, I finally read (most of) the journal article.

Do you still feel that New's attempts to construct mirror arguments for miracles & religious experiences to be inadequate?

Though I would agree that your response is better (especially with regard to religious texts/historical evidence), I would think that mirror 'evidences' of anti-religious experiences and anti-miracles is equally and symmetrically poor to the theists'.

If a theist's experience of profound sensations of fulfillment and purpose, say during mosque, is evidence of a good god, then would not a profound sensation of hopelessness & meaninglessness, say upon looking at the Milky Way, not symmetrically serve as evidence of an evil god?

If a theist survives near-impossible odds (drives home safely during an ice storm) & calls this a miracle from a good god, can't the near-impossible odds of being struck and killed by a meteorite be called an anti-miracle from an evil god?

I don't see how local, culturally-dependent interpretations of half of these events provides stronger evidence for one god verses another.

Patrick said...

Prof. Law

Even if one grants for the sake of argument that an evil God is a coherent concept, your “evil God challenge” (EGC) may still fail. It can be argued that compensatory afterlife theodicies are immune against it. If I understand the EGC correctly, its force doesn’t come from the fact that it is possible to construct reverse theodicies, but from the fact that Christian theists generally reject such theodicies as highly improbable, pointing to the large amount of good in the world. What Christian theists lead to such an assessment are their personal experiences. But with respect to the afterlife there are no personal experiences Christian theists can refer to. They simply don’t know how much good there is in the afterlife. So when having to rely on one’s personal experiences alone they cannot rule out the possibility that there is an evil God tormenting good and evil people alike in the afterlife. But if they concede this they can no longer be accused of applying a double standard when confronted with the EGC, and so it loses its force.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm being a little uncharitable, but one thing I took away from that article was that Stephen Long is ignorant of Classical Theist thought on metaphysics and cosmology (philosophical-theological, not scientific). In particular, he shows no awareness of the Christian Platonic and Aristotelian viewpoints about how God constructs and structures the world.

Evil as privation of the Good does not define what God creates as Good exactly. It defines God as the Good. What it says is that everything created is Good to the degree it participates in and models itself on the Good itself, on God. By its very nature creation means privation because it isn't God. Even God cannot creatre another God. The closer to God creation gets, the better it is - and the Angelic and Ideal realms are without appreciable suffering or evil. The further away it is, the less Good, or more evil, it is.

In Classical Theism our world, the corporeal realm, is far enough from God that evil and suffering are appreciable. What God does is, so to speak, knit the corporeal world together from the materials he has at hand, making it the best it can be. Long is far too literal about the notion of privation. It doesn't mean all evil must be a physical absense; it simply means it must be a lack of the ideal Good of a thing. There is nothing in the notion of the privation of the Good that means the evil and suffering, the privation, that must exist in our realm of being cannot include things like cancer.

Anonymous said...

Also, maybe I misunderstand Long, but he appears to claim at the beginning of his own comments in this post, that his challenge boils down to simply the fact that the atheist can point to the evil in this world and rule out a Good God, just as the theist could rule out an evil God by the amount of Good there is in the world.

I'm not sure what this is supposed to prove. It seems to ignore all the complex issues of philosophy and theology that surround this topic and tries to boil it down to two guys speculating on the existence of God just on some sort of innate feeling about what the existence of Good or evil means.

All Long really seems to be saying, underneath it all, is that the amount of suffering in the world doesn't fit his intuitions of what a Good God would allow - although, as I noted, he doesn't strike one as someone who has investigated the issue, at least what historical theists have argued, in any great depth.

Anonymous said...

Damn, I meant to write Stephen Law.

Philip Rand said...

Hold on here Dr Law!

If you agree with L.L.Long that:

1. Swiss cheese=evil

2. Holes=good

AND THAT USING SYMMETRY ONE CAN ALSO SAY:

1. Swiss cheese=good

2. Holes=evil

Then effectively you have made your model a sure thing paradox because the data is indifferent.

Then what your model formulates is equivalent to the famous Zen koan:

"You see a flag fluttering in the wind...What is moving? The flag or the wind?

The result is completely subjective; dependent only on the decision of the observer.

And the inference that a particular, i.e. "like pointless excruciating agony" defines a universal is also incorrect.

Here you seem to infer a universal from a particular like this:

1. All flowers die
2. A rose is a type of flower
3. A rose will die.

It doesn't work.

Besides, I could write that the pain you feel when you climb mountains is also pointless because climbing mountains for pleasure is pointless.

But, here you would say that "No, climbing a mountain is worth the pain and effort because when I reached the summit of the mountain I gained the meaning of life."

Actually, my tongue is in my cheek here on account I don't really think that climbing mountains is pointless...But, nonetheless your wife probably thinks it is a pointless endeavour!

Philip Rand said...

Hi Anonymous

Actually, using Dr Law's symmetry model you could equally write:

Good, I meant to write Stephen Law.

Heee, heeee, hee...

Anonymous said...

Related to the points that Law does not seem to have much knowledge of historical religious philosophy and that his literal view of privation is deeply flawed, I'd question how he is envisioning evil must exist in the world.

He seems to be ignoring what the world, the corporeal world, is, especially according to Classical Theism.

The world is made up of all sorts of entities, qualities, quantities, relations, and so forth, all within the determination of corporeal existence (time, space, etc). These aspects all come together, under God's direction, to form the world, and both Good and evil are experienced in the world. This being the case, it is not hard to see how privation, or evil and suffering, can manifest itself in many ways in the world and need not be a literal, physical absense.

Stephen Law said...

Sam - the problem with you, as I remember, is that he thought merely imaginary cases were enough to break the symmetry, but they are not.

Philip Rand said...

Well Anonymous

You have to remember Dr Law's intention is to "persuade"...which afterall is what organised religions do...so he is simply trying to level the playing field.

I would say that the problem with using metaphysics (here I include theology) is that metaphysics can only supply competing frameworks for the ontology of the physical world, but beyond questions of internal consistency it can't decide among them.

This is what causes frustration...it is not the messenger that is the problem :)

Stephen Law said...

Hello all

Anon: Of course I am aware that "privation" does not mean mere absence, let alone physical absence. Nothing I said required that it be so.

Earlier anon: Who is Stephen Long?

Anyhow, given that there is no single "classical theist" position on goodness (did Plato and Aristotle agree on the good - no) and that critiquing it is a bit like playing whack-a-mole as inevitably, no matter how many moles you whack, another mole pops up and says "Oh, how ignorant and unsophisticated of you, that's now what *true* classical theists believe." Anyhow, I note that, given "privation" obviously does not mean physical absence (which I certainly don't suppose it does, despite, like many classical theists, my using the Swiss cheese analogy and some examples where the privation happens also to be a physical absence), how does the privation view of evil deal with either the evidential problem of evil or the evil god challenge? Be genuinely interested to know if you have an answer more successful than all the other ones I have come across. Maybe you do...

Stephen Law said...


non you said: "I'm not sure what this is supposed to prove. It seems to ignore all the complex issues of philosophy and theology that surround this topic and tries to boil it down to two guys speculating on the existence of God just on some sort of innate feeling about what the existence of Good or evil means."

Well there's has certainly been an immense amount of explanation offered by theists to account for all the evil, or at least our inability to think of any reason why God would unleash it. This creates the comforting appearance that belief in a good God couldn't really be just, well, silly and straightforwardly empirically falsified, because after all so many very. very clever people have expounded such massive intellectual resources over millenia, cooking up all sorts of explanations and excuses in order to try to salvage the theory.

What the evil God challenge was partly designed to do was to get the theist to recognise, momentarily, that actually it is perfectly obvious with anyone with eyes to see that there's no such God. Just as it's perfectly obvious for anyone with eyes to see that there's no evil God.

Which it is.

Dissing the latter judgement as "intuition" is a bit like dissing as "intuition" the judgement of a jury rightly convicting someone on the basis of obvious and compelling evidence of their guilt, notwithstanding the fact that the defence has managed to cook up a mountain of cock-and-bull stories to try to neutralize that evidence.

Philip Rand said...

Hmmmm....

Now Dr Law, when you write:

"that actually it is perfectly obvious with anyone with "eyes to see" that there's no such God...

opens up a mine-field...because here you use expressions of "sense", i.e. to see using our eyes...Now, Aristotle would like this because if you look at his opening paragraph in his "Metaphysics" he links "knowledge" with "sight".

But, here is the big problem that kinda muddies the water with these types of statements.

You believe "mass" exists right?

Thing is, can you touch mass? Can you see mass?

You can't!!!!!

Philip Rand said...

Fun blog by the way...

The original Mr. X said...

Dr. Law:

"This creates the comforting appearance that belief in a good God couldn't really be just, well, silly and straightforwardly empirically falsified,"

So, how much evil would a good God allow, and how do you know this?

"What the evil God challenge was partly designed to do was to get the theist to recognise, momentarily, that actually it is perfectly obvious with anyone with eyes to see that there's no such God. Just as it's perfectly obvious for anyone with eyes to see that there's no evil God."

First of all, your Evil God Challenge seems to rely on the notion that the amount of evil and good in the world are approximately equal, but as far as I've seen you haven't actually backed this up. What reasons can you give why somebody who thinks that the amount of goodness outweighs the amount of evil should change their mind?

Secondly, your argument also relies on people immediately dismissing your reverse theodicies. But I don't see why we should do that. I mean, if I had some reason to believe in the existence of an evil God (assuming arguendo that such a concept is coherent), then I'd find reverse theodicies like yours to be quite plausible in reconciling the existence of goodness with an evil God. IOW, while I dismiss the possibility of an evil God, that's because I have no pre-existing reason for thinking one exists (and several pre-existing reason for thinking one doesn't), not because of the existence of goodness or any faults in the reverse theodicies.

michael fugate said...

But is the classical definition of god the correct one? How would one ever know?

The original Mr. X said...

Dr. Law:

"My response: (i) as anon points out, you do indeed appear to have muddled up the logical and evidential problems of evil here. Your comment seems to address only the logical problem – yet I am running the evidential problem, or (ii) if you really are addressing the evidential problem, what you say appears obviously false, as what we read in books is regularly falsified by empirical observation …"

I am doing no such thing. For, whilst things in books might be falsified by empirical observation, that this only happens when what we observe is inconsistent with what we read. If what we observe is consistent both with what we read being true and with what we read being false, we cannot say that what we have read has been falsified.

Michael Fugate:

"But is the classical definition of god the correct one? How would one ever know?"

Regarding your second question, through logical argument. Regarding your first, the OP is about classical theists' response to the Evil God Challenge, which seems to imply that classical theism is arguendo being assumed to be the correct form.

Stephen Law said...

Hi Mr X

Let me just check what you mean by this: "things in books might be falsified by empirical observation, that this only happens when what we observe is inconsistent with what we read."

Do you mean by inconsistent, logically inconsistent - that's to say, to assert what's in the book and what is oberved would be to involve oneself in a logical contradiction?

Ben Yacob was banned ages ago btw.

Stephen Law said...

You: "First of all, your Evil God Challenge seems to rely on the notion that the amount of evil and good in the world are approximately equal"

No not at all. There could be much of one than the other and still more then enough of each to rule out those two god hypotheses.

Compare: Fred tortures animals for fun, but other than this behaves in a remarkably compassionate way. On balance his behaviour is rather more good than evil. Still, there's more than enough good and evil behaviour displayed for us reasonably conclude he ain't all good and he ain't all evil.

Despite what we might read in a book about him.

Stephen Law said...

"Secondly, your argument also relies on people immediately dismissing your reverse theodicies."

Well, my challenge aims to bring out the reaction from Xians that, when I say I believe in an evil God and use the reverse theodicies to defend that belief, they recognize I'm being irrational. Which very often they do. Though you may not (as I mentioned above - you might be with Glenn Peoples there).

Actually some people do believe they have experienced an evil deity or being behind things. It's not so uncommon. They might then use my reverse theodicies to defend their belief. Are they, then, being rational? no. They are usually put on meds.

Switch good and evil above, though, and they are more likely to put on, not meds, but a dog collar, insisting they are being entirely rational.

Anonymous said...

if you would rule out an evil god *in any case* just on the basis of the amount of good that exists notwithstanding any conceptual incoherence involved in the concept (which was not even established, but hey ho) then you should rule out the good god on the same basis.

This is the hinge of the argument, and the reason why it's so easy to block. I do not rule out an evil god on the basis of good in the world; I would come up with other reasons. Hence, the evil god challenge doesn't get off the ground.

Anonymous said...

To add, the evil god challenge relies on prephilosophical intuitions about good, evil, and what a "god" is, ie. it's exactly the sort of thing an atheist would come up with. A classical theist has a philosophical system to work in and would not judge any philosophical claim (including those he disagrees with) prephilosophically, especially when there are other conceptual tools available to analyze it.

michael fugate said...



Logical argument and a couple of pounds will get you a cup of coffee - it tells you what is possible not what is.
And the answer to the first question is not an answer at all.

Stephen Law said...

"This is the hinge of the argument, and the reason why it's so easy to block. I do not rule out an evil god on the basis of good in the world; I would come up with other reasons. Hence, the evil god challenge doesn't get off the ground."

Well it's an aspect of the challenge. And yes you, like Peoples (the only other person I've come across who does this), can just desperately dig in and say: "Nope, no evidence *at all* against an evil God here!" while observing all the love, the laughter, the beauty, etc., etc., as you cling on to your reverse theodicies as explanations for such abundant goods.

But that's a pretty desperate strategy. One that most Xians exposed to the EGC can see fails (and which can be shown to fail: both strategies are hopeless iterated and/or ad hoc, much like e.g. the convoluted explanations Young Earth Creationist cook up to account for all the evidence against their hypothesis).

I'd recommend you instead rely not on the mirror theodicies (which are patently inadequate - and many theists admit the standard ones are too), but on sceptical theism. Say something like: "Neither god hypothesis is touched by what we observe, because in each case there may, for all we know, be reasons beyond our ken which neverthess justify all these goods/evils (reveal they are not gratuitous evils).

Stephen Law said...

"To add, the evil god challenge relies on prephilosophical intuitions about good, evil, and what a "god" is"

No, all it requires is that the Christian (not the atheist, please note) supposes that their God won't create gratuitous evil - e.g. appalling suffering for no good reason.

For, given we observe what does indeed appear to immense amounts of appalling suffering, far more than can be plausibly put down to God's mysterious good reasons, we then have the resources for a powerful evidential argument against the existence of God.

Of course you could just bite the bullet and say that creating immense suffering for which there is no good, benevolent reason is just the sort of thing that a "good" God, in your classical sense, might go in for.

But if you don't say that - how does "classical" theism deal with the evidential problem of evil?

Anonymous said...

And yes you, like Peoples (the only other person I've come across who does this), can just desperately dig in and say: "Nope, no evidence *at all* against an evil God here!" while observing all the love, the laughter, the beauty, etc., etc., as you cling on to your reverse theodicies as explanations for such abundant goods.

I don't feel like it's as desperate as you insist. The classical theist just doesn't make prephilosophical judgments about what constitutes evidence, since deciding what constitutes "evidence" before probing what the terms "God" or "evil" even mean is premature. The classical theist discovers that the need for evils to be "justified" (ie. the project of theodicy) is misguided itself.

Stephen Law said...

"The classical theist just doesn't make prephilosophical judgments about what constitutes evidence, since deciding what constitutes "evidence" before probing what the terms "God" or "evil" even mean is premature."

See my last comment. If you make the judgement that a God who is good in the "classical" sense would not create *gratuitous* evils - e.g. cause immense suffering for no good benevolent reason, then you face the evidential problem of evil. Respond how you like but the problem - in the form of immense horrendous suffering for which we can identify no good reason - certainly exists.

But perhaps your God is the sort of God who would go in for such pointless agony? In which case you don't face the problem of evil.

Anonymous said...

But if you don't say that - how does "classical" theism deal with the evidential problem of evil?

Convertibility of the transcendentals & privation view of evil, doctrine of analogy, independent arguments for God's existence. The sum of it all: God exists, God is good, evil is not evidence against God's existence nor in need of justification by way of theodicies.

Stephen Law said...

You can certainly attempt to deal with the problem of evil by coming up with an argument specifically for a good God, as I say in the paper. It's going to have to be a really, really good one, though, given the mountain of evidence against the good God hypothesis supplied by the evidential problem of evil.

Nothing you have said about the privation supplies any answer at all to the evidential problem of evil. So what if evil is a "privation" of good? The question remains - why are there such vast, horrendous, and seemingly pointless privations? Saying "50% childhood mortality for 200k years of human history - usually appalling deaths - is no evidence at all against a "good" God - it's just a privation of good" obviously won't do.

Steven Carr said...

Yes, it is weird that some people say that evil is a privation of good as though it meant anything meaningful.

Are they claiming something doesn't exist?

If I fall down a manhole in the street, am I now allowed to sue people because the hole U fell into was merely a 'privation of ground'?

I always wondered if fat people who suffer with their health are simply fat because they are deprived of thinness?

All you have to do to cure obesity is give people the thinness they lack.....

Anonymous said...

Well, what I listed covers a huge portion of classical metaphysics, so I'm obviously not spelling out a full defense of the privation view in a blog post, and the privation view is not the only defense in any case (if it were, it would have been all that I listed). The privation view shows that God is not causally responsible for evil in the world. Considerations of analogy (akin to those of Brian Davies, who you cite) would dispute whether we would affirm "God is a moral agent" as all.

The important parts of what I'm saying (since I'm not going to defend all of classical metaphysics in a blog post) is that: denying that evil is prima facie evidence against an evil god shuts down the evil god challenge, requiring you to just insist upon the evidential problem of evil. The considerations I invoke to answer the evidential problem of evil are no different from those I would have given if you had never written the paper, so my answer to the evil god question did not affect my response (for, to mention him again, Brian Davies does not write with an eye toward your challenge or toward an evil god, as far as I know, and my defense essentially follows his, draws from the same topics, etc.).

Steven Carr said...

'The privation view shows that God is not causally responsible for evil in the world.'

Really?

If I dig a hole in the ground, and you fall in the hole, I am not causally responsible because you merely were deprived of solid footing?

Have you read the Bible?

Apparently it's very good on what your hypothetical god is alleged to have done.

Let me read a bit of it out to you.

Isaiah 45:7
I form the light and create darkness,
I bring prosperity and create disaster;
I, the Lord, do all these things.

Apparently, your alleged god creates disaster.

It's in the Bible. It must be true.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it is weird that some people say that evil is a privation of good as though it meant anything meaningful.

Are they claiming something doesn't exist?


No. If someone says that, on the privation view, a bad thing "exists" less, they are at best being unclear, at worst equivocating. To say that one hill is bigger than the other is not to say that the other is suffering a privation of dirt; the privation view is not about the raw quantity of matter.

The view is tied into hylemorphism (at least on an Aristotelian take) and is so is related to form. In that sense, a thing is said to "exist" more if it better instantiates its form (this is why one defending the view would do better to use a word other than "exists"). If one human has lost a finger, then all other things being equal, he is a "worse" human; in that case, there is a lack of matter and a case of evil. But that is not always the case. The contracting of a disease is a materially positive event, but since it leads the human to worse instantiate "humanness," it is a privation.

That is the general idea, anyway. Oderberg (2007) is a good introduction to hylemorphism if you are unfamiliar and doubtful whether there is any coherence to "form," though he does not go into the privation view himself.

Anonymous said...

It's in the Bible. It must be true.

Wouldn't it be much more convenient if I were a Young Earth Creationist and were committed to taking every sentence of the Bible as a literal philosophical conclusion?

The Bible also anthropomorphizes God repeatedly, refers to him as a "hand" and various other things, though classical theists don't think that God is an animal or even bodily. Clearly not every description of God in the Bible can be taken at face value. So one must employ philosophy to sort out what they mean and how they should be taken.

Steven Carr said...

Lots of meaningless words.

No wonder theology is a useless subject.

Just listen to these classical theists talk and ask yourself whatever happened to that old-fashioned idea of not talking gibberish.

How did your god flood the world without creating evil?

How did your hypothetical god - the idol that you worship - turn Lot's wife into a pillar of salt without doing any evil?

How did you alleged deity send an angel to kill all the first-born of Egypt? Did he merely deprive them of life, so didn't do any evil?

Steven Carr said...

I see that anonymous can't handle clear words like 'I create disaster'....

He prefers obscure verbiage to clear English.


If he can only hide behind a fog of obscurantism, nobody can see that he has nothing to say....

FZ said...

I'm not an expert in classical theism, but I think Aquinas argues somewhere that "nothingness" is the ultimate evil. If that argument is correct, then I guess even Hell would be less evil than nothingness.

Anonymous said...

Stephen Law,

I'm the anon who wrote about how your challenge seems to ignoring any philosophical and theological aspect to the issues and to boil down to speculating about intuitions of what Good and evil mean in the universe.

Your reply to me seems to simply confirm this view. You basically just make a few points that rely on the question begging assumption that the existence of evil in the world can't intuitively be squared with the existence of a Good God.

I thought you were a professional philosopher. Aren't you embarrassed by your arguments here?

Your use of phrases like why God would unleash it [evil] show you have paid no attention to Feser, mine, or anyone else's explanations of Classical Theism and how it sees God and creation.

And yes, although there are differences between Plato, Aristotle, and their successors, there is, actually, a Western-Christian Classical Theism that has significant shared perspective.

What you mean by the evidential problem of evil seems to simply boil down to the fact you intuite that there is too much evil and suffering for there to be a Good God. The Classical Theist reponse is simply to repeat there explanation of evil and suffering and to ask you to actually back up your intuitions.

The answer to the evil God challenge is the idea that evil is privation and all this entails - evil is division, strife, and so forth. Therefore, it cannot be Good which is a privation of evil, but it must be evil which is a privation of Good.

Anonymous said...

Stephen Carr,

Grown ups are talking. Please be quiet. Your Gnu ranting is pointless. Even Dickie Dawkins makes more meaningful points.

FZ said...

Jeez, we could at least try to be polite.

michael fugate said...

It classic how people can so miss the point. Who cares if "classical theism" avoids the problem of evil- not everyone in the world holds to a classical view.

It doesn't mean that a god couldn't exist - only a certain kind of god can't. The issue comes down to whether or not a god is a necessary thing or not. The classical view of god as an "unmoved mover" is not how everyone views god - many philosophers are willing to posit that god is moved by its interaction with the world. In this view god may be necessary, but it is also contingent.



Anonymous said...

It classic how people can so miss the point. Who cares if "classical theism" avoids the problem of evil- not everyone in the world holds to a classical view.

Are you sure that Law is willing to concede that classical theism escapes his precious challenge? If he is now (which I doubt), it is because classical theists have made arguments against its application to classical theism, since Law previously held it (I believe - he can correct me if I'm wrong) to apply to most varieties of traditional Christianity - which classical theism is if anything is.

Anonymous said...

As the other anon implies, the most central and important of Christian thinkers from the Fathers to the great Protestant divines held to Classical Theism - and in a sense so did Plato, Aristotle, and their respective ancient schools.

This is quite a body of theistic belief to exclude. Not that the challenge is very meaningful. As Law himself implies, it is basically about intuiting (in essence question begging) that the existence and amount of evil in the world means there can't be a Good God.

michael fugate said...

How the hell does classical theism have anything to do with Christianity? Are there really Christians who believe their god just doesn't care?

Anonymous said...

I don't think you understand what Classical Theism is.

Anonymous said...

How the hell does classical theism have anything to do with Christianity? Are there really Christians who believe their god just doesn't care?

You seem to be off on both counts. Every major Christian thinker until around the mid-1600s was a classical theist (could probably broaden to every major monotheistic thinker), and classical theism doesn't teach that God doesn't care.

Steven Carr said...

2 Kings 17:25

When they first lived there, they did not worship the Lord; so he sent lions among them and they killed some of the people.

Perhaps anonymous can explain how his hypothetical god did not cause any evil when he rectified these people being deprived of lions and made sure they were deprived of life.



LAW
Feser’s response to the EGC is probably the weakest I have come across – it’s actually dealt with in my paper, which he clearly did not even bother to read properly.

CARR
Indeed, Feser can only make weak responses. What else has he got?

Classical theism is designed to patch up the holes in Christian belief by filling them with the polyfilla of obscurantist verbiage.

It is intellectually as negligible as similar theistic attempts to classify angels into cherubim , seraphim or archangels.

Just a waste of time.

Anonymous said...

Carr, if you don't know what you are talking about, why comment?

Start here and move on from there:

http://www3.dbu.edu/mitchell/dante2.htm

Anonymous said...

Besides, Carr, you have offered no substantive points yourself. Just what do you think your pointless comments are achieving? It isn't even as if they were witty or amusing.

Steven Carr said...

I see anonymous ducked a very simple question about his own Holy Book.

This is despite having the intellectual power of having a Feser or an Aquinas behind him.

But he can't even tell us if sending lions to kill people is evil or not.



Steven Carr said...

Classical theism appears to pull the amazing trick of taking normal words like 'good' and 'evil' and changing what they mean into meaningless words.

And then saying that is atheists who are coming up with incoherent concepts because they use the word 'evil' the way the rest of the world also uses it.

Stephen Law said...

No one seems to be addressing the points I made 9.55 and 10.05 yesterday:

(i) Seemingly gratuitous evils are a problem for any Christian who supposes their God won't allow gratuitous evils. That's the evidential problem of evil.

(ii) Saying evil is a "privation" doesn't deal with the evidential problem of evil. If there are *gratuitous* evils - which e.g. 50% childhood mortality rates for most of human history appears to be - then it follows there is no such deity, whether such evils are "privations" or not.

Stephen Law said...


"Your use of phrases like why God would unleash it [evil] show you have paid no attention to Feser, mine, or anyone else's explanations of Classical Theism and how it sees God and creation."

Yes we often slide into personalist-sounding language, don't we? Classical theists do it regularly too. Assume I speak analogically, as they, presumably, do.

Stephen Law said...

By the way I have read Brian Davies's The Reality of God and The Problem of Evil, and I failed to find an adequate response there either (nor in Feser, whom I've also read).

If "classical" theists wish to respond, can they please do so other than by saying, "Well it's all terribly complicated and I think you'll find that's entirely dealt with in there", as that's not very helpful to me.

The original Mr. X said...

Carr:

"Classical theism is designed to patch up the holes in Christian belief by filling them with the polyfilla of obscurantist verbiage."

Classical theism predates Christianity by several centuries, and is also espoused by plenty of Muslim and Jewish philosophers, who would have no interest in patching up holes in Christian belief (if anything, quite the reverse).

More generally, I'd advise you to either stop posting or to moderate your dismissive tone. Banging on about how you can't understand classical theism doesn't make classical theism look wrong, it just makes you look stupid and obnoxious.

Philip Rand said...

Hi Steven

Firstly, I am no Christian apoligist, nor am I an Atheist apologist.

But, I would catagorically state that Dr Law's model is a very good model (despite him appearing to water-down his conclusions on this blog). It is a coherent model.

If you analyse his model properly one comes to a very interesting result.

Namely, that Good and Evil are not "empirical" things in themselves but rather "relations". And that the names of Good and Evil are simply the propositional truth values of relations and not objects. One could look at these "relations" creating the physical world and not the other way round.

For example, look at the phrase:

"Knowledge of Good and Evil"

This phrase gives you three key variables, Knowledge, Good and Evil. Clearly here Knowledge comprises the relations Good and Evil.

Now, in Dr Law's model he assumes that only one universe was created by a God (this God could be Good or Evil...this is the approach he took, i.e. to "measure" or determine the wilfullness of God, this is a separate issue in his model to the issue I'll comment on).

I'm going to stay with the three varialbes I mentioned and use the fact that only one universe exists.

Now, if one universe exists it means that the landscape of Good and Evil operate together.

We can draw a graph then of this relation. On the y-axis we have "Knowledge" and along the x-axis we have at one extreme end "Gratuitous Evil" and the on the other extreme we have "Gratuitous Good"...we use a Gaussian curve to connect these two extremes to describe the relational data of Good and Evil.

If one does this, then it is clear that what is of real interest is the area that is integrated under this curve and not single pieces of data.

For example, I scratched my head trying to think up examples of "gratuitous Evil"...one I came up with was the Nazi hypothermia experiments...clearly these were Evil. But, strangely the results of these experiments have been used by some researchers since to solve the problem of hypothermia. Of course, some people believe the Nazi research was crap and others do not. But, this research has contributed to some further understanding that could potentially help victims. So, could one say a "Good" has been the result of this "Evil"?

This is debatable...but what one could say is that this reasearch no matter how dispicalbe has increased human "Knowledge".

Another example could be the metiorite that hit the Earth wiping out animals greater than a certain size. This could be considered an act of gratuitous Evil...but without it humans would not have probably evolved and intelligence of our sort would not have been realised...again, an increase in knowledge.

What is interesting is that Steven Pinker in his latest book has come to the startling conclusion that humans are becoming less violent as they evolve...

The question is why?

My only conclusion is that it is because humans are gaining knowledge pure and simple and that the only way knowledge can increase is through the relations of Good(pleasure) and Evil (pain).

Looked at this way, Dr Law's model should satisfy both Christian faction and Atheist faction...both groups can take something very positive out of the model.

The original Mr. X said...

Dr. Law:

"(i) Seemingly gratuitous evils are a problem for any Christian who supposes their God won't allow gratuitous evils. That's the evidential problem of evil."

Again, you haven't given any indication of what would be a non-gratuitous level of evil, or how you decide whether something represents a gratuitous evil or not. Until you do so, your argument is unlikely to convince anybody who isn't already disposed to agree with you.

(And, since we're on the topic of reverse theodicies and so forth, you haven't told us what would count as a gratuitous *good* either, with the result that your only response to somebody who accepts the possibility of an evil God is to wave your hands a bit and say "But it's just so OBVIOUS that there's no evil God!" Again, that's not very convincing to anybody who doesn't already agree with you.)

Anonymous said...

Law,

The use of the term gratuitous is common to atheists in these discussions, but it would seem to simply be question begging.

Evil as privation of the Good explains why there is evil in the world. You still say there is gratuitous evil, but you give no reason, beyond question begging intuitions, why this evil is gratuitous and not explained by Classical Theism.

Carr,

Is Iago deceiving the Moor evil?

You ignored my suggestions, I see. The first point in response to your drivel is that the Scripture is to be read on different levels. Incidentally, it always had been read on different levels and was supposed to be. Of course, you clearly have not one iota of knowledge of Christian and Judaic tradition and thought, like most Gnus, and I very much doubt anything I or anyone else here can say will provoke any sort of humility on your part so that you at least learn about what you pontificate (poorly) on.

Steven Carr said...

I see anonymous still can't answer the simple question of whether sending lions to kill people is evil.

Meanwhile, he adopts a dismissive tone, telling people to read all about his wonderful system of classical theism.

While he himself can't use any of it to answer the most simple questions.

He can't even tell us if abortion is a gratuitious evil!

Anonymous said...

As the implied purpose of your question has been undermined (ie., it has already been amply show it is not a good accusation against Christianity), I'm not sure there is much point in answering the question.

Nevertheless, the answer is it depends on the people the lion is sent to kill. If they deserve death, then it is not necessarily evil; if they do not deserve death, then it is evil.

Stephen Law said...

"The use of the term gratuitous is common to atheists in these discussions, but it would seem to simply be question begging."

It's a term standardly employed by theists, actually.

"Evil as privation of the Good explains why there is evil in the world. You still say there is gratuitous evil, but you give no reason, beyond question begging intuitions, why this evil is gratuitous and not explained by Classical Theism."

At this point your response to the problem of evil has nothing to do with classical theism per se. Rather you are employing a response any old theist could employ. Indeed, they do employ it. So you have not explained why it is that, by being "classical", your theism avoid the problem of evil. Rather, you're just employing a bog standard response.

Anonymous said...

Stephen Law,

Which theists? Perhaps, we are reading very different theists.

My theistic response is Classical in appealing to Classical Theism - privation of the Good - to explain the existence of evil.

Anyway, I do not see in what way your lastest post is a proper response to my points about your question begging. It looks a lot quite evasive to me.

Stephen Law said...

That's to say, it seems you are just saying - "Well this might strike *you* as gratuitous evil (you can't think of a reason for it) - but how do you know it really is gratuitous - that there really is no good reason for it? In fact, you don't know that there's no good reason for it."

This is sceptical theism - which, again, is a bog standard response employed by all sorts of theists, not just "classical" ones, and which I was recommending you adopt earlier, rather the "classical" waffle about evil being a privation, which is now, given the employment of sceptical theism, entirely redundant.

Philip Rand said...

Hi again Steven Carr!

Your comment concerning abortion is interesting, i.e.

"abortion is a gratuitious evil"

I think it would be quite fair to say that abortion is murder, i.e. killing something that is alive.

Given this, then what the philosopher Michael Oakeshott would say is that if the abortion was carried out as simple murder then it would not be Evil.

However, if the the abortion were carried out "murderously" then it would be evil.

Stephen Law said...

Google "gratuitous evil" and you'll find hundreds of theists happily using the term "gratuitous evil".

Here's a simply evidential argument:

1. If God exists, then there are no instances of gratuitous evil.

2. It is likely that at least some instances of evil are gratuitous.

3. Therefore, it is likely that God does not exist.

At this point you're no longer pointing out this argument does not even apply to your special kind of theism - *classical* theism - but rather just targeting premise 2 using sceptical theism in much the same way non-classical theists do.

Philip Rand said...

Yes, but Oakeshott would ask:

Are these gratuitous Evil acts committed "gratuitously" by a God?

Anonymous said...

Stephen Law,

Perhaps one of your problems is your knowledge of theism and Christianity comes from random internet apologists and not from Plato, Origen, Augustine, Aquinas, Butler, etc.

Your argument relies on premise two being correct. But it is not uncontroversial - that is the point. You are simply begging the question in simply asserting that two must be true (or appealing to intiutions to back it up).

The Classical Theist simply says he has an explanation for evil in the world and that it explains all evil. I haven't seen any non-question begging attempt to suggest there is evil that isn't explained by Classical Theism. That is what you must do.

Anonymous said...

If you mean, by skeptical theism, that we cannot explain exactly why a particular evil exists in some circumstances, especially in all its fullness, then I'm not sure how such a position is contrary to Classical Theism.

Classical Theism accepts we cannot discursively explain all the form the world takes, although we can explain much of the metaphysics and cosmology of the world. Likewise, although Classical Theism explains why there must be evil in the corporeal world, it doesn't explain why, in all instances, God shapes this evil in a certain sense. We cannot hope to explain all the ways of God to man, nor should we try. But there is no contradiction of Classical Theism in recognising this. This sort of negative capability, to use Keat's phrase about one of the supreme Classical Theists, Shakespeare, this ability to be receptive to mystery, is an important quality of many Classical Theists.

Steven Carr said...

It is not begging the question to wonder why Christians boast about how much good they do by trying to eliminate evil in the world.

If there is no gratuitous evil in the world, why the Hell do Christians campaign against evil and do charity work?

Steven Carr said...

I see anonymous is now claiming that if his hypothetical god sends lions to kill people, that is not evidence his god is evil.


There can be no discussions with somebody who claims that even if his hypothetical god kills people, that is not evidence of an evil god.


Anonymous said...

I think you mistake Christians for Jacobins. It is in the nature of traditional Christianity to believe that evil cannot be removed from the fallen world this side of Domesday.

Philip Rand said...

Actually Anonymous...

You and Dr Law are never going to get anywhere with your discussion because Dr Law is a "Classical Atheist", i.e. his metaphyisical model is hinged on "materialism".

And your metaphysical model is clearly NOT materialistic.

Though you believe your model is internally consistent, he likewise does with his own.

And one simply cannot discern which is correct.

For you to persuade him of your world-view...you would first have to convince him that a materialistic world-view is wrong...

Anonymous said...

I see Steven Carr is lying. There can be no discussions with someone who is so casually dishonest. If you somehow think your input in this thread will make an impartial observer think you are worth arguing with, then you're quite mistaken. I'm quite happy if you don't argue with me. You have added nothing to the discussion.

I argued, as anyone reading the thread can see, first that the Bible is to be read at different levels and God did not send lions to kill innocent people. This was my main argument.

Of course, it is no evidence that God is evil if he kills people - unless you are arguing all killing is wrong?



Anonymous said...

- that should have been "evil can be removed this side of domesday".

Philip Rand said...

What about this Steven Carr...

Would you consider it the attribute of a Good God or an Evil God...if the God in question
killed an evil person?

Would this be a good act or an evil act?

Steven Carr said...


I see anonymous is now reduced to claiming that if his god kills people, those people deserve to die.


There can be no discussion with somebody who thinks his idol can kill anybody he wants to kill, and all puny Earthlings can do in response is to worship his idol.

Anonymous worships a serial killer.

At least that's what his Holy Book claims his god is.

There can be no discussion with somebody who worships the god of the Bible.

All that can be done is point out the evil of their beliefs - the enormity of their claim to be moral while simultaneously they are prepared to worship a being their own book claims kills at will.

Stephen Law said...

"If you mean, by skeptical theism, that we cannot explain exactly why a particular evil exists in some circumstances, especially in all its fullness, then I'm not sure how such a position is contrary to Classical Theism."

You are missing my point. My point is that this response to the evidential problem of evil is not peculiar to classical theism. Indeed, its leading exponents aren't particulary "classical", so far as I'm aware. And once you go sceptical theist, the "classical" privation review is redundant as a response which is good because it never worked anyhow.

In short, your "classical" position has nothing unique and effective to offer. All the usual "classical" blather about how classical theism is somehow specially immune to the problem because it's classical and thus posits an impersonal god and/or a privation view of evil is no longer doing any explanatory work. It never immunized "classical" theism against the problem, which in your case is now just being dealt with by your sceptical theism. Just as I recommended earlier...

Anonymous said...

Steven Carr is the epitome of the Gnu. It is not so much the overwhelming ignorance combined with breathtaking arrogance that I find most remarkable about such people, it is their complete lack of imagination.

Stephen Law said...

"The Classical Theist simply says he has an explanation for evil in the world and that it explains all evil."

If so, he's wrong because the "classical" view etc. doesn't explain gratuitous evil, if it exists. If it exists, then "classical" theism, as you seem to understand it, is simply false.

But does it exist? What the sceptical theist offers instead is an argument to block the inference from inscrutable evils (reasons for which we can identify no good reason) to gratuitous evils.

Anonymous said...

Stephen Law,

If what you have said in this thread is anything to go by, you have given very little reason to think the privation view of evil is incorrect.

Anyway, I still don't get your point. It is not a skeptical theistic point to suggest that Classical Theism shows there is no gratuitous evil in the world. And, of course, you have completely (seemingly evasively) avoided the issues that your use of adjective gratuitous brings up.

Besides, Classical Theists don't accept their position, for the most part, simply or even mostly because it answers the so called problem of evil. There is far more to it than that.

Stephen Law said...


"If what you have said in this thread is anything to go by, you have given very little reason to think the privation view of evil is incorrect."

Again you miss the point. It is incorrect, but my point is even if it is not, it does nothing to deal with the evidential problem of evil as articulated above. Sceptical theism is a better bet.

Anonymous said...

Stephen Law,

Classical Theism also doesn't offer an explanation of why naturalism is true if it is true, or why atheism is true if it is true.

Classical Theism claims, or implies, that gratuitous evil doesn't exist. So, it is necessary, to refute it, to show it does exist. This has been my point since you started using this adjective gratuitous.

Stephen Law said...

"Anyway, I still don't get your point.

It is not a skeptical theistic point to suggest that Classical Theism shows there is no gratuitous evil in the world."

Classical theism does not establish there's no gratuitous evil. Rather it has that consequence (so does no "classical" standard theism). So if there is gratuitous evil, theism is false, classical or otherwise.

The evidential problem of evil is: gratuitous evil appears to exist.

Nothing in the non-personalist and/or privation views immunizes "classical" theism against this problem. It's just as vulnerable as bog standard theism. And now you are appealing to the same bog standard theistic response - sceptical theism.

So I just don't want to hear yet another Feser-fanboy say, in response to the evidential problem of evil (and the evil god challenge), "Oh how ignorant of you - you see *classical* theism, unlike other varieties, is immune to the evidential problem of evil." And for them to then waffle on irrelevantly about non-personalist conceptions of God and the privation view of evil.

Anonymous said...

No, you miss my point.

There is no evidential problem of evil, as you state it, if gratuitous evil does not exist.

The idea of evil as privation, which is induibitably correct (and you have done nothing to show otherwise - indeed, you have shown basic ignore of it) as a part of Classical Theism, is an argument that is aimed at explaining all evil. It therefore states there is no gratuitous evil. Therefore, it does defeat this evidental problem of evil.

Stephen Law said...

"The idea of evil as privation, which is indubitably correct (and you have done nothing to show otherwise - indeed, you have shown basic ignore of it) as a part of Classical Theism, is an argument that is aimed at explaining all evil. It therefore states there is no gratuitous evil. Therefore, it does defeat this evidential problem of evil."

Ah, how silly of me. Yes of course it can just state that. And then if there appears to be a mountain of gratuitous evil, it all can all just be ignored. Why did I not think of this before?

Ok I am being rudely sarcastic at this point point but COME ON! THINK!

Anonymous said...


"The evidential problem of evil is: gratuitous evil appears to exist.

Nothing in the non-personalist and/or privation views immunizes "classical" theism against this problem."

Indeed. This is what immunizes any theist against this so called problem:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Begging_the_question

Classical Theism is not immune to someone who proves the principle that all exists is matter, if this is true. But it is one thing to assert this principle and another to prove it.

I just don't understand why you have trouble understanding this.

Anonymous said...

Ah, how silly of me. Yes of course it can just state that. And then if there appears to be a mountain of gratuitous evil, it all can all just be ignored. Why did I not think of this before?

As I said, your entire argument is really just question begging appeals to intuition about the nature and amount of evil in the world.

Steven Carr said...

ANONYMOUS
The idea of evil as privation, which is induibitably correct...

CARR
So death is not evil, as it is simply a privation of life.

ANONYMOUS
It therefore states there is no gratuitous evil.

CARR
SO why do Christians try to eliminate evil, if there is no gratuitous evil?

Here is Edward Feser shooting himself and you in the foot by campaining against gratuitous evil

Feser on evils

Always nice to see theists showing that even they don't believe what they preach.

Feser knows there is gratuitous evil in the world just as surely as you do.

So stop pretending there is no such thing as gratuitous evil.

It fools nobody.

Stephen Law said...


"As I said, your entire argument is really just question begging appeals to intuition about the nature and amount of evil in the world."

Yes, that is the sceptical theist reponse. Which any theist can run - nothing specially "classical" about it at all.

Anonymous said...

That [my response] is the logical response. It should be the response of the fair minded agnostic or atheist as well. Your response to me is the obscurantist response.

Anyway, I don't see the relevance. As I said Classical Theism is not just a theodicy. It is term for the entire Platonic-Aristotelian-Christian philosophical and theological viewpoint.

The original Mr. X said...

Stephen:

Classical theism defeats the EGC by showing that the notion of an evil God is incoherent. So if you try to argue that various explanations for the existence of evil could be switched round into a reverse theodicy, the classical theist could just reply "No, because an evil God is an incoherent concept, so there's no symmetry at all between the two cases." You could of course then try and argue that the amount of evil is such that we should reject any idea of a good God; however, then your argument would just collapse into the straight problem of evil, since the EGC part of your argument would have been effectively abandoned.

Incidentally, I'm still waiting for an answer to my question of how we can tell whether a particular piece of suffering is gratuitous or not. And no, waving your hands and saying "That's a sceptical theist position!" isn't actually an answer.

Stephen Law said...


"Classical theism defeats the EGC by showing that the notion of an evil God is incoherent."

I explained why this is false.

Stephen Law said...

"Incidentally, I'm still waiting for an answer to my question of how we can tell whether a particular piece of suffering is gratuitous or not. And no, waving your hands and saying "That's a sceptical theist position!" isn't actually an answer."

I am not defending the arg from evil here, I am defending the view that "classical" theism has not unique and effective response to it. But nice try at trying to drag me off topic...!

Steven Carr said...

MR X
Classical theism defeats the EGC by showing that the notion of an evil God is incoherent.

CARR
No, it just means that whatever your hypothetical god does, you claim it to be good.

So if your god kills children in a flood, then killing children is good.

Simply emptying the words 'good' and 'evil' of all meaning makes your arguments meaningless.

I agree that the notion of an evil god is incoherent on classical theism, because classical theism is incoherent, because its proponents live in an Alice in Wonderland worlds where words mean whatever they want them to mean.

In the real world, the notion of an evil god is not only coherent, but understood by everybody.

Stephen Law said...

Incidentally Mr X do you endorse anon's "indeed" below:

"The evidential problem of evil is: gratuitous evil appears to exist.

Nothing in the non-personalist and/or privation views immunizes "classical" theism against this problem."

Indeed.

Philip Rand said...

Sorry Anonymous...

But aren't you missing something here?

I mean, wouldn't the crucifixtion of Christ (i.e. God) be an example of gratuitous Evil?

So, isn't this proof for you that it is real?

Now, Dr Law would get around this problem by showing the historical Jesus did not exist.

However, this would be an extremely difficult thing to "prove"...myths being what they are I know from my own studies of various myths that their is always some elements of truth in them...

I mean, recently one of our old Kings, Richard III has been excavated...the interesting thing here for me was not his discovery but the information about him but when they did discover him it was found that he did have a hunchback...

What is interesting here, is that in the UK, Richard III's hunchbackness was considered a "myth", i.e. we had no "evidence" of his condition...

So much so, that the Richard III Appreciation Society went enormous lengths to "prove" that he couldn't have had a hunchback (using similar techniques that Dr Law uses in his debates about the historical Jesus.

But, the weird thing was...that when excavated it was found that Richard III was a hunchback confirming the myth!

Similarly, even conceptual things like "Occams Razor" that we use in science could be considered a myth...the only thing going for it is its past seemingly empirical success combined with an innate sense that the simpler a physics model is the more explanatory power it has...

Stephen Law said...

I'm deleting any posts that appear to be coming from Ben Yachov btw.

Philip Rand said...

Dr Law, isn't that being rather "Authoritarian"?

Just a joke...but true.

Stephen Law said...

Of course a "classical" theist can say: "I have a gobsmackingly good proof that not only must any maximally great being be good, but that such a being actually exists. My proof of this claim is so extraordinarily good that even vast amounts of seemingly gratuitous evil cannot now rationally threaten that belief."

Maybe such a proof exists. It is going to have to be really, really good though, to counter what otherwise looks like a mountain of empirical evidence against the belief (notwithstanding the theodicies).

Is there such an extraordinary proof? The vast majority of professional philosophers think not. Very many theistic professional philosophers think not (probably a large majority of them, I'd guess). I think not, even having trawled though Brian Davies, Feser, etc.

Yet almost everyone, theists included, concede that the evidential problem of evil needs dealing with - because it would otherwise constitute a very significant intellectual threat to any argument-based form of theism.

Currently, a very popular response is to appeal not to theodicies, which even many theists concede are poor, but to sceptical theism.

Stephen Law said...

Authoritarian? Moi? Authoritarians don't rely on reason to persuade, and they do encourage people to think for themselves. As I do...

The orginal Mr. X said...

Dr. Law:

"I explained why this is false."

Not at all convincingly, though. Your EGC relies on a symmetry between standard theodicies and your reverse theodicies; if there's no symmetry, the EGC becomes irrelevant, and your position goes back to the standard problem of evil.

"I am not defending the arg from evil here, I am defending the view that "classical" theism has not unique and effective response to it. But nice try at trying to drag me off topic...!"

Oh, I'm sorry, I was just confused by the fact that you keep on saying "Look at the enormous mountain of gratuitous evil in the world!", and assumed that you'd want to back this oft-repeated statement up, or at least define it a little more precisely so that the rest of us could tell exactly what you mean. My bad.

"Is there such an extraordinary proof? The vast majority of professional philosophers think not."

But as Feser's demonstrated on his blog, lots of professional philosophers don't actually understand the classical theistic arguments, so their opinion on this matter is pretty much worthless.


Philip Rand:

"I mean, wouldn't the crucifixtion of Christ (i.e. God) be an example of gratuitous Evil?"

No, because through that evil God was able to bring about an even greater good which could not have arisen otherwise.

Philip Rand said...

Ah...

Here, I think both the classical theist and you are both on the wrong track.

The problem is both your models of the world.

Whether it is a theist or an atheist both positions are similar in that you both seem to believe that "objects" in the world are fundamental and persistant individual entities to which properties are ascribed.

This is in fact how you view the world and how it appears classical theism approaches the world...and this has been the "accepted" model of the world for centuries...

However, I should point out to you that a new model of the world (here I can only speak of physics but it will affect other things as well) is beginning to emerge where it is only "properties" that is fundamental to the world and not objects.

In other words, relations cause objects to come into being.

Now, this kind of modern conception of the world is a game changer.

So, all these "old" conceptions of the world with the division between objects and properties is the reason why this theistic/atheistic debate has not progressed for centuries.

Philip Rand said...

Dr X

When you write (dealing with the crucafixtion):

"No, because through that evil God was able to bring about an even greater good which could not have arisen otherwise."

Are you saying Jesus committed suicide?

Which reminds me of something Wittgenstein wrote...

If suicide is the elemental sin then anything is possible.

Or something to that effect, I can't remember the full wording exactly...

Philip Rand said...

But if you are saying that efficient causation in the world is wrong...and that in reality what we perceive as causal relations are in truth simply separate "events"...then I can see where your idea of the non-existence of "real" gratutious evil comes from...

I would have to think about it...but it would correspond to a "quantum" conception of events in the world...

Sorry, but I am not up on theology...

Anonymous said...

I am not Ben Yachov. I'm the anon you have been arguing with. I stand by my accusations. Not one have you been obscurantist and evasive but you have been disingenuous by doing things like quoting me out of context. This is why I decided to stop even bothering to debate with you.

If you delete this post -itself a disingenuous action - I will at least make sure to make your actions known on Feser's blog.

Steven Carr said...

Is that the Feser who shot you in the foot with his articles about the evils of abortion?

Stephen Law said...

Anon - Ah well apologies - your style of rudeness is very similar to his.

Anonymous said...

Is quoting people deliberately out of context not rude?

Philip Rand said...

No, I wouldn't say it is rude...rather a form of information redundancey :)

Philip Rand said...

But Anonymous...it really isn't a good idea to threaten people, i.e. I will tell on you...

I learned this at Shrewsbury...it simply isn't cricket :)

Stephen Law said...

Mr X

Me: "I explained why this is false."

You: Not at all convincingly, though. Your EGC relies on a symmetry between standard theodicies and your reverse theodicies; if there's no symmetry, the EGC becomes irrelevant, and your position goes back to the standard problem of evil."

Me now: Utterly baffling irrelevancy. Given all that's been said, I'm now at a loss to know how to respond. Possibly part of the problem here is that you don't know what a "theodicy" is. Sometimes it's good to interact with laypeople on this blog because they can learn something and sometimes I can too (I have had two papers developed as a result of such useful interactions). But the way in which we're are going round and round in circles here leads me to think it's time to pull the plug. You're not really interested in having a philosophical conversation. You're doing something else.

Me: "I am not defending the arg. from evil here, I am defending the view that "classical" theism has not unique and effective response to it. But nice try at trying to drag me off topic...!"

You: Oh, I'm sorry, I was just confused by the fact that you keep on saying "Look at the enormous mountain of gratuitous evil in the world!", and assumed that you'd want to back this oft-repeated statement up, or at least define it a little more precisely so that the rest of us could tell exactly what you mean. My bad.

Me now: the mountain of seemingly gratuitous evil/good does indeed play a part of the EGC challenge. But my point here is that the sceptical theist move you now make is just a bog-standard response to the challenge. I previously supposed you (like Feser) to be offering some argument as to why "classical" theism is, by virtue of its classicalness, immune to the problem in a way that other brands of theism are not.

Me: "Is there such an extraordinary proof? The vast majority of professional philosophers think not."

You: But as Feser's demonstrated on his blog, lots of professional philosophers don't actually understand the classical theistic arguments, so their opinion on this matter is pretty much worthless.

Yes, and the fact that Young Earth Creationists can point to various orthodox scientists who have failed to grasp the intricacies of the Young Earth Creationist position shows that the opinion of orthodox scientists on Young Earth Creationism are pretty much worthless! Oh, wait a minute...

Note also that "I've got a proof for a good God" is anticipated in my evil God paper as one potential decent response to the challenge. I just thought the odds of someone providing one were low. In attempting to supply such an argument, the classical theist is just attempting to meet the evil God challenge, rather than showing it doesn't apply to classical theism, which is what I thought you were supposed to be doing.

Of course there are all sorts of ways to meet the challenge. But attempting to meet the challenge is quite different to saying, "The challenge doesn't apply to my sort of god".

In short, the "classical" theist response of saying in effect: "The challenge does not even apply to my god, moron!" fails. Which is not to say the challenge cannot be met, perhaps even by a classical theist!

Anonymous said...

I mean, wouldn't the crucifixtion of Christ (i.e. God) be an example of gratuitous Evil?

It actually seems like the paradigmatic example of why what seems to be gratuitous evil might not be after all. The centrality of the crucifixion, martyrdom, and sacrifice in Christianity seems to remind that, you know, the people most convinced by the argument from evil are middle aged philosophy professors and new atheists living in the first world, not people who actually suffer "gratuitous" evils.

Anonymous said...

Also, Stephen and Steven, it seems you've been responding to two different anons as though they were the same.

michael fugate said...



I always love when you ask a question and one gets no answer - just an assertion. Perhaps it is you that don't understand? Are the two compatible? The fact that some Christians held this view doesn't mean that two are. Does the god portrayed all through the Bible resemble anything like a classical theistic version of a god? An unmoved mover seems to indicate that god is not at all affected by its creation, no? Is this your understanding that your god never changes - no matter what happens? If this is true - how is this consistent with Christianity? Even Jesus on the cross would indicate that he thought this might not be true. Or was Jesus mistaken?

michael fugate said...

for some reason the copied text I was replying to above was lost - it is here
"Anonymous said...
How the hell does classical theism have anything to do with Christianity? Are there really Christians who believe their god just doesn't care?

You seem to be off on both counts. Every major Christian thinker until around the mid-1600s was a classical theist (could probably broaden to every major monotheistic thinker), and classical theism doesn't teach that God doesn't care."


And Anonymous - how hard is it to come up with a name to use when posting - you are that uncreative. When classical theism posits that only god can create - I don't think it applied to names on blog responses.

Steven Carr said...

ANONYMOUS
It actually seems like the paradigmatic example of why what seems to be gratuitous evil might not be after all.

CARR
So carry on aborting!

Feser says it's OK to abort babies.

Anonymous said...

(Different anonymous here than the ones who have already commented.)

Despite the generally poor quality of discourse in this trainwreck of a comment thread, I think I may be able to offer a charitable interpretation of what the "classical theists" mean with this whole evil-as-a-privation business and why they think it addresses the problem of evil/EGC.

The view of evil as a privation of good, such as it is, might be construed as essentially a kind of theodicy, whereby God's in creating the universe *necessarily* instantiates some instances of evil. The motivation for thinking this is based on the "classical theist" position that God *is* (is identical to, as opposed to "merely" possesses) abstract properties such as Being and Goodness. Whether or not you buy any of this essentialist/Platonist-sounding metaphysical baggage, that's the view, so let's grant it for the sake of argument.

Now, since God is identical to the abstract, ideal form of maximal goodness, it follows that whatever he creates cannot also be maximally good. This is because anything that is maximally good (if I am understanding the view correctly) would also be identical with the Platonic form of the Good, which is (by hypothesis) also identical to God. But we already supposed that we are talking about a universe which, despite being created by God, is not identical to Him. Put another way (using "==" to mean "is identical to"):

1. God == Goodness
2. Anything that is all good == Goodness
3. God ==! The universe
Therefore:
4. The universe ==! Goodness (by 1 and 3, assuming transitivity of the "==" and "==!" operators)
5. The universe is not all good (by 2 and 4)

Thus we can explain away (at least some) evil in the world on the grounds that God could not have created a universe without evil, else it would simply be identical to Him. By "evil is a privation of the good," one means that it represents a failure to fully instantiate the Platonic form of Goodness and is thus the mechanism by which our world is not simply the same thing as God Himself. Basically, another theodicy.

Now, do I think this is a convincing argument? Absolutely not--I think the metaphysical business about Platonic forms and concrete entities somehow being identical to abstract ones as long as they perfectly instantiate the abstract form is utter crap. I also don't see how you can use this as a way to explain away all but the most trivial of evils (if all you need to make the universe nonidentical to God is to have *some* evil instantiated, why not make it a dust speck in one person's eye rather than hundreds of millions of years of pointless, unmitigated worldwide agony?). But this is the only way I could think of to make any sense whatsoever of what these "classical theists" have been saying about their particular brand of metaphysics providing an independent solution to the problem of evil. And I may have completely misstated their view anyway, but only they can tell you that.

Regardless, the "classical theist-evil-as-privation" theodicy does seem to have at least one interesting property: it's not obvious how one would "flip" it to make a reverse theodicy (viewing good as a privation of evil would seem to be ruled out because they'll claim that Goodness rather than Badness is the proper Platonic form to be referencing based on metaphysical arguments X, Y, and Z which I refuse to clearly spell out because it's all in my book but again I won't tell you exactly where). At least I can't think of an obvious way to do so.

Would greatly appreciate your commentary on this, Dr. Law (or any "classical theists" who might be able to tell me if this is a roughly accurate representation of their view). I am not a professional philosopher, just someone who takes an interest in philosophy of religion as a hobby, and I'd be interested to see if this idea has anything going for it.

The original Mr. X said...

Classical theist: Looks like that guy's not a bachelor, he's brought his wife along to the party as well.

Law: You don't know that. The evidence could equally be turned around to argue that he *is* a bachelor, just, you know, a married one.

CT: No, because a "married bachelor" is a contradiction in terms.

Law: Oh, come on, the arguments for him being a bachelor are ridiculous. Just look at the way he and his supposed wife act towards each other. They're clearly just pretending to be married!

CT: That might turn out to be so, but if they are pretending, bringing up absurdities like married bachelors doesn't add anything.

Law: I am utterly baffled as to this latest irrelevancy of yours.

Steven Carr said...

I see Mr. X is reasoning the following.

Classical theist - The way I use words, an evil god is incoherent.

Rest of the world - An evil god is a perfectly coherent concept and we have no trouble thinking of such a being and imagining what it would do.

Classical theist - You obviously don't understand classical theism.

Rest of world - You obviously don't understand the word 'evil'. If an 'evil god' is incoherent in your philosophy, then you have just proved that your philosophy is incoherent.

Anonymous said...

The original Mr. X:

I think the problem with your analogy is that the alleged "proof" that God exists and is all-good is not recognized to be such by the vast majority of people who are in the business of determining whether claimed proofs are deductively valid. In any case it's certainly not as obviously correct as the statement "no bachelors are married." And we can absolutely have empirical evidence that undermines our belief in something that, as a fact of the matter, is either necessarily true or necessarily false. For as human beings, we are not able to assert *anything* with a probability of exactly 1. Obviously simple tautologies like "no married people are bachelors come close, but are still not strictly infallible. Remember we are talking about epistemic probability anytime we talk about what we have reason to believe. So even if you think you have a great deductive proof from first principles that Good exists and is all good, if we're able to marshal enough evidence against that proposition (which the evidential problem of evil claims we can, given all the seemingly gratuitous evil we plainly observe), it will eventually become the case that more than likely your claim to have a correct proof is simply mistaken.

In other words, there are two opposing pieces of evidence here: on the one hand, the claim (not recognized by the vast majority of trained philosophers, logicians or mathematicians) that there exists a correct deductive proof of God's existence and goodness; and on the other, the observation that we live in a world that is by orders of magnitude far more deeply flawed than any all-powerful, all-benevolent being would create or allow. I think the second piece of evidence is significantly more persuasive.

The original Mr. X said...

Anon (the new Anon):

Because evil is a privation, it makes no sense to say that God "created" evil (as some people do). Now, one could of course modify the problem of evil to the problem of absence of good, and ask why God made things capable of being deprived in the first place; to which I would answer, that God alone is pure actuality, whereas everything else is necessarily a mixture of actuality and potentiality (viz. the cosmological argument). However, even a currently-actualised potential could cease to be actualised at some point in the future. Evil is a privation, which is to say, the failure to actualise a certain potential (as, for example, death is the failure to actualise a potential for life). But if any created thing must have some potential in it, it must therefore be capable of evil. Hence God in creating anything must create it with the possibility of committing or of suffering evil. As for why He would do this, presumably He thought that the existence of creation was worth its occasionally going bad. Most people would I think agree with Him in this: for nobody who is not extremely mentally ill would seriously wish that the universe had never come into existence, even if he were suffering some severe evil.

Steven Carr said...

It is by no means obvious that if your god created flesh-eating bacteria, then that is not evil.

What is being clinically obese a privation of?

To say evil is a privation is literal nonsense.

It means nothing.

Try looking up the word 'evil' in a dictionary.

As your philosophy leads to the conclusion that an evil god is incoherent, while the rest of this planet has no problems with the concept of an evil god, perhaps you should also look up 'reductio ad absurdum.'

As your philosophy leads to absurdities such as 'An evil god is a contradiction in terms', your philosophy is broken.

The original Mr. X said...

Anon (seriously, could you guys get some names? It only involves choosing a different option in the drop-down menu, and it would really help to be able to tell which of the 3+ anonymoi are speaking):

"In other words, there are two opposing pieces of evidence here: on the one hand, the claim (not recognized by the vast majority of trained philosophers, logicians or mathematicians) that there exists a correct deductive proof of God's existence and goodness;"

Given the specialisation of contemporary academia, most philosophers are unlikely to be familiar with theistic arguments. Of those who specialise in philosophy of religion, however, the majority -- something like 70%, IIRC -- describe themselves as theists.

"and on the other, the observation that we live in a world that is by orders of magnitude far more deeply flawed than any all-powerful, all-benevolent being would create or allow."

Same question for you as for Dr. Law: what would an all-benevolent deity create or allow, and how do you know?

Anonymous said...

The original Mr. X (still the new Anon):

So from my understanding, it again seems that you are using the metaphysical necessity of anything not identical to God (who is identical to pure goodness, pure actuality, etc.) to justify that there must be at least some evil in the world. Leaving aside the question of whether these kinds of abstract-concrete identities even make sense, the view is that since things in the created universe are not identical to God (thus not identical to Pure Actuality), they therefore have the potential to do all sorts of things including evil, and this explains why we observe evil even though God is perfectly good. Is this right?

If so, it still seems highly unconvincing because one might ask why there is *so much* evil in the world. Clearly, all things that have potential (not sure what you mean by potential--maybe "multiple possible futures"?) do not have the same potentials. For example, an asteroid that is headed directly for Earth has far greater potential to cause evil than an asteroid that is pointed toward an uninhabited gas giant. So the question still remains, why is the world such that the history of life on Earth for the last several hundreds of millions of years has been absolutely replete with pointless suffering on a scale that is so large as to be unfathomable? Even restricting ourselves to human history, why do we have evils like (per Dr. Law) over 50% childhood mortality for several hundred thousand years? This handwaving about everything not identical to God having to have some potential for evil doesn't seem to come close to cutting it. Presumably if the world had been created with the potential for less suffering than we currently observe (even though there might still be some), that would not violate the condition you laid out.

As for your last point, "nobody who is not extremely mentally ill would seriously wish that the universe had never come into existence, even if he were suffering some severe evil":

I'm not sure that's right. Anyone who's ever had a loved one linger in utter demented agony in an ICU, enduring painful, desperate medical interventions before inevitably meeting death's sweet embrace would probably attest that there are things worse than not existing at all. If the alternatives were either creating no world or creating a world where all conscious beings suffer tremendously for all eternity, no world could well be preferable (not saying this is our world, just making a note since you brought it up. Our world may have enough good in it to outweigh the amount of evil that exists on net, but again that still doesn't explain why so much evil exists given an omni-benevolent God).

Greg said...

Try looking up the word 'evil' in a dictionary.

ie. how all good philosophers begin? With a dictionary?

The original Mr. X said...

Anon:

WRT the general existence of evil, the privation theory explains why God allows evil to exist. WRT the question of "pointless" or "gratuitous" suffering, you haven't suggested any criterion for telling whether a piece of suffering is actually gratuitous at all. Sure, we can't see the reason behind a lot of suffering, but it doesn't therefore follow that there is no reason. And, FWIW, the problem of evil seems (as another Anon pointed out above) to be most popular with educated middle-class Westerners; those who actually have to live with these "gratuitous" examples of evil on a day to day basis seem not to think that they're so gratuitous after all.

And by potential, I mean the potential states something could be in, as opposed to the state it actually is in.

The original Mr. X said...

Steven Carr:

"To say evil is a privation is literal nonsense.

It means nothing."


As a general rule of thumb, when a large number of intelligent people have believed in something, then it isn't wrong for some trivial or obvious reason. It might still be wrong, of course, but "Go look in a dictionary" is unlikely to disprove it, especially given that philosophers since the time of Socrates have known that the man in the street's definition of words is often self-contradictory/incomplete.

Anonymous said...

I'm the anon who bested Law above, along with Mr. X and another anon. Stephen Law has shown himself not really to be worth debating, but I think some this new anon's points are worth responding to.

Let me take a more Platonic perspective to compliment Mr. X.

From the Platonic perspective God is the Supreme Good, which creation participates and mirrors. Creation is also a reflection and an emanation from God, which involves the projection of God's infinity and absoluteness, as well as Goodness, into the privation of Being. The further this projection gets from God, the more relative it is and the more it suffers privation, reaching out towards nothingness, the more evil and suffering there is.


I think this adequately explains the amount and nature of evil in our world. The corporeal world is quite a distance from God, to speak metaphorically. This means there is considerable privation, great evil and suffering, that must exist in our realm of being. God shapes our realm of being, as Boethius reminds us, to be as Good as it can and to maximise the total Good in creation, but considerable evil and suffering must exist here.

When it comes to the death of a loved one and other evils, I do not deny, obviously, they include real evil and suffering. But the degree which we let them make us despair - or should do - depends upon one's perspective. Even death of a loved one may have good qualities. To quote John Adams, in a moment reminscient of Dr. Johnson:

The desolated lover, and disappointed connections, are compelled by their grief to reflect on the vanity of human wishes and expectations; to learn the essential lesson of resignation, to review their own conduct toward the deceased, to correct any errors or faults in their future conduct towards their remaining friends, and towards all men; to recollect the virtues of their lost friend, and resolve to imitate them; his follies and vices, if he had any, and resolve to avoid them. Grief drives men into habits of serious reflection, sharpens the understanding, and softens the heart; it compels them to rouse their reason, to assert its empire over their passions, propensities and prejudices, to elevate them to a superiority over all human events, to give them the felicis animi immotam tranquilitatem; in short, to make them stoics and Christians.

Of course, the modern world has taken away many of the customs and rites which helped make death more normal and bearable. And the decline of the family and community has made the loss of a loved one that much more overwhelming to the lives of many individuals.

I do not make light of evil and suffering, but the right perspective is needed here.

Platonic Anon said...

I will call myself Platonic Anon as there are too many other anons.

It has been brought up why God would create a world, as there must be suffering here.

The Platonic answer, though not the Christian one usually, is that God Being Absolute and Infinite he must include the projection of his Infinity into the realm of the relative, the individual, and the privative. This, in fact, increases God's Goodness, because for all the privation, even the least aspect of existence is Good and adds to the totality of God's Goodness

sam said...

I think that I’ve read most of the Gospels (though not all in one sitting). I can’t help but conclude that the authors really wanted to emphasize the importance and value of preventing suffering that doesn’t exist and relieving the suffering that does. Over and over again, the authors place the Jesus character in situations where he relieves others’ suffering or he talks about the value of relieving suffering to his followers. The victims in these stories whose suffering were relieved acted positively toward this relief, and the authors seem to validate this positive attitude toward relief as an appropriate response. We can even find stories where people who fail to relieve suffering (suffering which they themselves did not cause) are indicated as being somehow morally deficient. I just can’t find the classical theist’s god anywhere in these (specifically & uniquely xian) texts (assuming the classical theist affirms the Divine Hypostasis).


As a thought experiment, I can imagine the discovery of an early manuscript. Call it the Gospel of the Classical Theist. As the Gospel of the Hebrews is likely an adulterated copy of Matthew, this gospel is essentially the Gospel of Mark with a chapter intercalated within. After the Jesus character finishes feeding the starving masses, curing the diseased, exorcising the possessed, giving sight to the blind, and clothing the naked, he and his disciples come upon a 3-month-old baby slowly drowning in a shallow puddle of muddy water.


Given all of Jesus’ previous efforts to relieve suffering (and given that Mark’s disciples are exceptionally na├»ve and theologically unsophisticated), the disciples immediately expect Jesus to get his sandals muddy and rescue the drowning baby. After he fails to do so, they imply that his gratuitous negligence rises to the level of evil. Jesus replies that while his gross negligence may rise to the level of evil, evil is just a privation, so it’s OK. Jesus notices that the disciples’ eyes are still fixed on the dead baby, having glossed over upon Jesus’ response. Sensing that the disciples didn’t feel the force of that argument (Mark’s disciples are, after all, almost as theologically unsophisticated as atheists), he insists that he is a non-personal god and therefore his actions and inactions are not subject to moral judgment. Simon asks how calling us to “be perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect” has any meaning in the absence of moral judgment. Jesus insists that just because his inaction doesn’t fit the disciples’ own intuitions about right or wrong (intuitions that he, himself, placed in their hearts) doesn’t mean they have any evidence of Jesus’ own moral failings. After the intercalated chapter ends, Jesus resumes healing the sick, comforting the afflicted, and participating in and commiserating with the suffering that is the human condition.


Would that chapter not seem out of place even to natives completely unexposed to xiantiy?

Platonic Anon said...

Please explain what you just wrote has to do with Classical Theism.

God does not want us to suffer. He offers us comfort and does all he can to prevent suffering. The God of Classical Theism isn't impersonal. He is simply not

Platonic Anon said...

- that last sentence I was going to delete, but it was going to read he is simply not an anthropomorphic figure.

Son of Anonymous said...

"Seriously, could you guys get some names? It only involves choosing a different option in the drop-down menu, and it would really help to be able to tell which of the 3+ anonymoi are speaking"

Yeah you're right. My apologies, I didn't realize you could just input a name without an account before. I'm the latest Anon who tried to come up with a charitable interpretation of the "classical theist" point--I'll go by this from now on.

"Given the specialisation of contemporary academia, most philosophers are unlikely to be familiar with theistic arguments. Of those who specialise in philosophy of religion, however, the majority -- something like 70%, IIRC -- describe themselves as theists."

There's a difference between saying 70% of philosophers of religion are theists and saying that they all believe the "classical theist" position provides a correct deductive proof of God's existence and goodness. In fact the vast majority don't. And in any case, it seems highly likely that there's a selection effect at work: those already inclined to theism should be much more strongly attracted to becoming a scholar of religion than those inclined to atheism (for an atheist like me, philosophy of religion is more like a set of intellectually interesting puzzles--which is probably why I didn't choose to become a philosopher of religion or theologian--but for a theist it likely comprises the most important questions in all existence).

"WRT the general existence of evil, the privation theory explains why God allows evil to exist. WRT the question of "pointless" or "gratuitous" suffering, you haven't suggested any criterion for telling whether a piece of suffering is actually gratuitous at all. Sure, we can't see the reason behind a lot of suffering, but it doesn't therefore follow that there is no reason."

This is just skeptical theism though. There's nothing particular about classical theism that gives that argument any more force.

At best the doctrine might be able to provide an additional theodicy whose only real virtue is that it's not obvious how one would flip it into a reverse theodicy, but its ability to account for any appreciable amount of evil in the world seems to be miniscule at best (again, if having evil is a consequence of not completely instantiating God's form of perfect Platonic goodness, why not make the imperfection something minor like a dust speck in someone's eye rather than actual level of historical suffering that has taken place (whose extent you really can't be taking seriously if you don't think it strains credulity to think absolutely none of it is gratuitous)?

Son of Anonymous said...

Other Anon:

"From the Platonic perspective God is the Supreme Good...[t]he further this projection gets from God, the more relative it is and the more it suffers privation...the more evil and suffering there is...I think this adequately explains the amount and nature of evil in our world...This means there is...great evil and suffering, that must exist in our realm of being. God shapes our realm of being...to be as Good as it can and to maximise the total Good in creation, but considerable evil and suffering must exist here."

So what would the claim here be? That God actualizes every possible world W such that the total amount of good in W outweighs the total amount of evil in W? It's an interesting suggestion, but it seems like He could do better to instead actualize an equal (perhaps infinite) number of copies of a world W* that don't include any instances of gratuitous suffering. In any case, there doesn't seem to be anything particularly "classically theist" about this response at least as I've understood it thus far, and you could just as easily flip it to defend belief in an evil God (the reason our world has so much good is because Evil God actualizes every possible world in which the total evil outweighs the total good).

"When it comes to the death of a loved one and other evils, I do not deny, obviously, they include real evil and suffering. But the degree which we let them make us despair - or should do - depends upon one's perspective. Even death of a loved one may have good qualities."

That isn't the point I was making. I was illustrating that, contrary to The Original Mr. X's assertion, that there are possible states of existence to which simply not existing is preferable--continuous, pointless, unmitigated agony like you might find in a terminal patient being "aggressively resuscitated" likely being one of those.

Timothy McCabe said...

Dr. Law asks, "Is God's 'goodness' a sound basis for supposing he won't constantly lie to and deceive us for no benevolent reason? If not, how can the theist reasonably believe any divine pronouncement or revelation?"

It seems to me that "certainty" is unjustified without an authoritative, personally communicated guarantee, which can in turn only come from an authoritative, personal Guarantor. Further, this Guarantor must be perfectly honest or His guarantee is uncertain. He must be omniscient for the same reason. Thus, an omnipotent, omniscient, personal God exists, or "certainty" with regards to anything is unjustified.

This would be one reasoned grounding for trusting that the God who exists is honest. Certainty about anything would be wholly unjustified were that not true.

But how do we know that this perfectly honest God is morally upright? How do we know that He never sins?

The Bible describes "sin" as "the transgression of the law" (Malachi 3:18; Romans 4:15, 5:13; 1 John 3:4). In order for God to sin, in order for God to be immoral, He would have to command Himself to do something -- give Himself a law -- and then refuse to obey His own command for Himself.

This is clearly not an issue of "moving the goalposts", nor am I simply redefining "good" to offer only a semantical argument. As I said, this description of "sin" was written two thousand years ago in one of the documents that Christians claim to be of ultimate authority in matters of faith. It is not some bizarre, newfangled concept that is being foisted upon people of faith in an effort to defeat Law's challenge by redefining the concepts of "good" or "evil".

The question is then, does an omnipotent, omniscient God who refuses to do what He Himself wants to do (an evil god) really seem just as reasonable as an omnipotent, omniscient God who actually does what He Himself wants (a good God)? I think not.

Dr. Law offers numerous emotional objections to this perspective, with plenty of adjectives and adverbs designed to provoke nausea ("horrific", "agonizing", "pestilential", etc), but he offers no logical or reasoned arguments against it. He simply can't, really, because logic and reason are themselves dependent upon justified certainty, which cannot exist if there is no God.

And if there is a God, well, it simply follows that what He says goes. Like it or not.

Dr. Law asks "Would someone's [e.g. Jesus] having gone round behaving like Caligula [or Satan] be any evidence at all against his being divinely 'good' [apparently not!])?"

Clearly, if God commanded them not to, and they did, then they would be sinning. On the other hand, if He commanded them to, it would be sinful for them not to. But their sin in either direction is not evidence of God's disobedience to Himself -- though it is evidence of their own disobedience to Him.

"But God could have stopped it!" someone cries.

Did God command Himself to stop it? If not, He isn't sinning by allowing it. Or even causing it.

God bless.

Steven Carr said...

MR X
Sure, we can't see the reason behind a lot of suffering, but it doesn't therefore follow that there is no reason.

CARR
So keep on with those abortions!

MR X
WRT the general existence of evil, the privation theory explains why God allows evil to exist.

CARR
Yes, your hypothetical god allows people to be deprived of life, just as he allows classical theism to be deprived of meaning.

Platonic Anon said...

Son of Anonymous,

"So what would the claim here be? That God actualizes every possible world W such that the total amount of good in W outweighs the total amount of evil in W?"

No. That is not what I mean. To put the matter into slightly different language, God is All-Possibility. He is Infinite Possibility. But God in his essence, is Absolute and undifferentiated. This means that within God's essence his All-Possibility is entirely unmanifested, undetermined, and unified, even those possibilies (like those which make up our world) which are capable of being manifested. As some of these possibilities have the capability to be manifested (as the world itself proves) it would be a reduction of God's Infinity if they were not. So they must be manifested.

But manifestion is, in a sense, a separation and a relativisation. It means the projection of possibilities in a way that is outside the Absolute and Infinite essence of God, though paradoxically the separation is never full, towards nothingness. This means that in the manifested world, Being, the qualities of the Absolute that are reflected in it take on a kind of relative character. The Supreme Good becomes the relative Good. But relativity denotes contrast, so that the relative Good means also relative evil. The closer we are to God, the more relatively Good we are and the closer to the ideal of the Supreme Good. But the further we go from the relative Good, the further we experience relative evil. Although there is no absolute evil, even our everyday minds should allow us to conceive in some sense that of a situation where the distance from God is so great that evil can be considerable - even more than in this world, and yet this is still captured in the platonic viewpoint and therefore even this evil would not be gratuitous, let alone that of our world.

So this explains the existence of evil, even what you are trying to label as gratuitous. But a little more can be said. Namely, that increasing God's Infinity, so to speak, relativity or manifestation or Being (or whatever you wish to call the entirety of creation outside the divine essence itself), increases his Goodness. So the world is always Good in that sense. We may also say that God arranges the world, or any particular world (Platonists differ over the existence of multiple universes), so that the Good is maximised. He cannot get rid of all relative evil, but he makes sure that the world is still arranged so as to be as Good as it possibly can.

"In any case, there doesn't seem to be anything particularly "classically theist" about this response at least as I've understood it thus far, "
Well, I take Classical Theism to apply to the distinct but related strains of Platonic, Aristotelian, and Christian thought that held sway in the premodern West. I'm just using the solely Platonic language at the moment to provide a slightly differing perspective from Mr. X and because I think it betters answers certain questions.


and you could just as easily flip it to defend belief in an evil God (the reason our world has so much good is because Evil God actualizes every possible world in which the total evil outweighs the total good).

Such a challenge would fail for the reason the evil God challenge fails: because it makes no sense to talk of the Infinite and Absolute as the Supreme evil (instead of Good) or to talk of Good as privation of evil. This is because of the nature of evil in strife, division, disunity, falling away, and so forth.

Platonic Anon said...

Also, just to touch on your responses to Mr. X first.

It was Law who first rather crudely and clumsily appealed to what contemporary professional philosophers apparently believe. Personally, I see little merit in any such speculations.

And as I said above, Classical Theism is just a name the traditional nexus of Platonic, Aristotelian, and traditional Christian thought in the West. It is more than a theodicy, so it doesn't matter whether other theists can use similar arguments to certain objections of atheists.

Anyway, skeptical theism says we cannot know that there is gratuitous evil, whereas Classical Theism says that there is no gratuitous evil. There is a difference, though both woud query the throwing around of the adjective gratuitous by atheist.

Steven Carr,

I don't see the point in your posts. Do you think such trolling nonsense is going to win anyone over? Even an impartial atheist isn't going to see much value in them. So why waste your time and everyone else's in this way?

Steven Carr said...

I see that Platonic Anon doesn't appreciate people pointing out the irony of classical theists like Edward Feser writing that there are no such things as gratuitous evil while simultaneously raging against the evil of abortion.

PLATONIC ANON
But manifestion is, in a sense, a separation and a relativisation. It means the projection of possibilities in a way that is outside the Absolute and Infinite essence of God, though paradoxically the separation is never full, towards nothingness. This means that in the manifested world, Being, the qualities of the Absolute that are reflected in it take on a kind of relative character. The Supreme Good becomes the relative Good. But relativity denotes contrast, so that the relative Good means also relative evil.

CARR
This is all just meaningless nonsense.

Why can't people who believe in a god manage to string together words which mean something?



Platonic Anon said...

Carr, why not slink back under the bridge you came from and leave the grownups to talk.....

Philip Rand said...

Actually I do see a potential problem for the classical theist becasue when they states:

“since God is His own being, nothing can be said of Him by participation…. If, then, evil is said of God, it will not be said by participation, but essentially. But evil cannot be so said of anything as to be its essence, for it would lose its being, which is a good."

This cannot be true because the universe consists of "objects" participating, i.e. communicating with each other.

I mean, here God's participation in the world is required for humans to come to the realisation that a God exists surely, I mean God did reveal himself to the Jews on Mount Siani...this is an example of "participation" with the world.

However, if what is meant is not a physical participation but rather a qualitative knowledge type participation then one I suppose could say that God does not participate in a physical sense with the world.

Which means, we are left with this "essence" thingy...

Now, I suppose if one wished one could couple this "essence" thingy with a Holographic Universe picture of the world...so our world is then simply a 2D projection of this essence...meaning that both Good and Evil don't really exist as things or rather objects...but simply relations...which would mean that Evil doesn't really exist...nor Good...but qualitative knowledge does, here I suppose one could say God's knowledge...

Simple conjecture...and perhaps really strait-jacketing a theory to fit the data...but an interesting idea.

By the way, University of Chicago is preparing some inferometer experiments to see if the Holographic Universe is possible true.

Son of Anonymous said...

Platonic Anon:

Before we go any further, we're going to have to define exactly what claims you are and are not making, because your latest reply smacks of the kind of obscurantist word salad that turns out to be either obviously wrong or entirely meaningless 90% of the time. As such, I'm not going to go chasing my tail responding to what I think you might mean only to have you come back and say "Oh no, you didn't understand me at all! Your reply completely misses the point, how unsophisticated of you. What I really mean is *cue another verbose word salad*". But in the spirit of charity let's give this a shot...


You say:
No. That is not what I mean. To put the matter into slightly different language, God is All-Possibility...within God's essence his All-Possibility is entirely unmanifested, undetermined, and unified, even those possibilies...which are capable of being manifested. As some of these possibilities have the capability to be manifested...it would be a reduction of God's Infinity if they were not. So they must be manifested.

I tried to parse this and what I am getting is "God actualizes every possible world." Is this what you claim? If so, why not just say that? If not, then please tell me what this paragraph is saying in plain English because that's as close as I can come to discerning an actual meaning from it.

Next:
But manifestion is, in a sense, a separation and a relativisation. It means the projection of possibilities in a way that is outside the Absolute and Infinite essence of God...This means that in the manifested world, Being, the qualities of the Absolute that are reflected in it take on a kind of relative character…But relativity denotes contrast, so that the relative Good means also relative evil…But the further we go from the relative Good, the further we experience relative evil… even our everyday minds should allow us to conceive in some sense that of a situation where the distance from God is so great that evil can be …and therefore even this evil would not be gratuitous, let alone that of our world.

This paragraph sounds like you are saying the following: Possible worlds, when actualized, necessarily become less good because their actualization makes the goods that obtain within them less good by virtue of no longer being identical to the abstract Good which is identical to God (since evil is claimed to be a privation). Again, if this is right then please confirm, otherwise say what you mean in clear language.

So this explains the existence of evil, even what you are trying to label as gratuitous. But a little more can be said… increasing God's Infinity, so to speak, relativity or manifestation … increases his Goodness. So the world is always Good in that sense. We may also say that God arranges the world…so that the Good is maximised. He cannot get rid of all relative evil, but he makes sure that the world is still arranged so as to be as Good as it possibly can.

Explain why you think your line of reasoning accounts for *all* allegedly gratuitous evil. To my understanding it would explain at most a very small amount (enough to render it consistent with its existence outside of being identical to God). Refer above to my example of the dust speck vs. the whole of cumulative historical human and animal suffering.

Such a challenge would fail for the reason the evil God challenge fails: because it makes no sense to talk of the Infinite and Absolute as the Supreme evil (instead of Good) or to talk of Good as privation of evil. This is because of the nature of evil in strife, division, disunity, falling away, and so forth.

Which is a somewhat reasonable reply if you're basing your theodicy on the metaphysical necessity of God's goodness, but if you're hitching it to the actualization of multiple possible worlds (which is what your last reply seemed to suggest) then that is an entirely different matter and at that point the argument is again vulnerable to being flipped.

Philip Rand said...

One could say that:

"God actualizes every possible world."

Which could mean that he is sub-conciously expressing the fact that the universe can be described by a single universal wave function that is in super-position until it is observed when it collapses.

Stephen Law said...

Hi Son of anonymous and Platonic anon

Platonic anon's response immediately above looks more like what I recognize as classical theism (though the all-possibilities-are-actualized bit is a novel twist).

Sceptical theism and "I've got a really good argument for a good god" are not ways of showing the evidential problem of evil/EGC don't apply to the God of classical theism, but just ways of trying to meet the challenge that might be employed by theists of any stripe.

Such a "cosmic sluice" God of the sort Platonic anon seems to be describing (though let him/her explain more clearly before we make up our minds on that), on the other hand, really is immune to the evidential problem of evil/EGC from the outset. As I explained in the original post way back when.

Gratuitous evil = evil for which there is no adequate (benevolent) reason. I am guessing Platonic anon will say that a universe containing nothing but a billion babies being tortured with pokers by a billion devils for all eternity would both be "good", in his God-of-the-philosophers sense, and indeed would not contain gratuitous evil because, say, this universe flows from God's (good) nature, which is its "reason". But let Platonic anon speak for himself.

If only some universes are actualized, though, and the billion-tortured-babies universe is actualized but one in which babies grow to be happy, healthy and content is not, then we might press the question: "What's the reason God actualized that tortured-baby universe, rather than one in which babies grow to be happy, healthy, content, etc?"

Possibly we'll get the same answer. But again let's find out..!


Platonic Anon said...

I disagree that what I wrote makes no sense. I certainly used a lot of technical terminology, but this is necessary for the discussion. I'm no expert in making Platonism understandable to the masses, so I just did what I could. You didn't really show why what I wrote was hard to understand. You simply asserted it. This could be a rouse, designed to dismiss what I wrote, which Carr gives an example.

You could say that God actualises every possible world, although I think it is important not to make the Platonic perspective beholden to any Analytical frameworks for understanding possible worlds.

What I really mean is God actualises, or manifests in the sense of gives them being in a separative, determined way according to varying conditions, all the possibilities he contains which are capable of being actualised.

Each possible world is a reflection of the divine, but under varying conditions and parameters.

Each possible world, however, is a reflection of the divine that descends down greater and greater degrees of separation and relativity, according to the conditions of the world. The traditional doctrine of the Chain of Being and the Levels of Being is an expression of this doctrine. Each level of Being reflects the level above it - with the highest realm reflecting God himself directly - though progressively under more constrained and limited conditions. So, in our world there was traditionally understood to be the Ideal or Angelic realm, then the Imaginal Realm, then various sublte and psychic realm, then our corporeal realm, and then various infernal realms.

It is part of God's Infinity that he reflects himself in a possible world, under its conditions, not only in the most sublime and ideal of ways but also in progressively more and more limiting conditions. Think of the light of a torch, which becomes more and more scattered and less dimmer the further it shines into the darkness.

If you know much about the theory of the Forms, then you will see the parallels here (the theory of the Forms is simply a more limited expression of what I'm getting at). Each General Form is divided until all its constituent possibilities are brought out as specific Forms; then each specific Form is individuated into corporeal entities which manifest the specific Form. Thus the all inherent possibilities of the General Form are made manifest.

This is the same process that occurs in creation as a whole. God's Infinity means he must not only make manifest the basic building blocks of possible worlds under the ideal conditions or those closest to him, where privation trully is like a speck of dust. It means he must make manifest this material under more and more separative and limited conditions, where evil can certainly seem considerable to those afflicted and which explains what you refer to as gratuitous suffering. There are realms below ours where evil is even greater.

We can see that it makes no sense, then, to talk of flipping this perspective. An evil God simply cannot take the place of the Absolute and Infinite, given the nature of evil.

It is very hard to introduction such a complex perspective to you, but I hope this last post is somewhat easier to understand. Just ask me if further explanation is needed.

Philip Rand said...

Actually Platonic Anon...

The use of exposition and jargon is always a sure sign of a bad position.

Philosophy like science is about clarity.

Let's use Occams Razor here...meaning, the less said the more powerful the explanation.

Using jargon like "infinity", "Absolute", etc. is really quite meaningless...I mean, what is infinity?...what is the Absolute?

Do these things exist?

Keep it simple, the thing is if your model is cohesive let the model speak for itself...jargon and exposition is a sign of "lost in the woods" thinking, i.e. porosity of facts that simply flow through leading nowhere.

Just because a topic is complex doesn't mean it requires exposition and jargon.

This is why it is always best to give examples of ideas and not generalisations.

Like for instance: the Absolute.

Here you could use "Absolute Zero" as an example, meaning that the existence of "limits" in the universe is a true belief.

This example is quite clear and leads somewhere...say, where the idea of differentials come from...that leads to ideas concerning space etc.

Giving examples gives the other person a clear idea of what you mean.

Son of Anonymous said...

"You could say that God actualises every possible world, although I think it is important not to make the Platonic perspective beholden to any Analytical frameworks for understanding possible worlds."

If by "analytical framework" you mean actually defining your terms and making precise claims that either stand or fall, then I don't think you have anything to complain about if your claims are subjected to such scrutiny.

Now, since you didn't give a precise definition of which worlds you think are instantiated, let's try the standard definition of a possible world: a maximal self-consistent set of propositions. Is it your claim that each world that meets this definition is actualized by God? Or is it some subset of these? (Presumably God can't actualize inconsistent, i.e. logically impossible, worlds.)

Next thing: you are claiming that God doesn't *choose* to actualize all these possible worlds (which include some truly awful ones, if you stop and think for a moment about how you could rearrange all the atoms in the universe to produce as much suffering as possible) in any literal or metaphorical sense, correct? Rather, the worlds exist as a matter of metaphysical necessity because (so the argument goes) they are forced to exist as a consequence that God is essentially infinite is capable of actualizing them. Have I got that about right?

If that's the case, then I quite agree that the picture you've described is immune to the EGC and the problem of evil in general. For the state of affairs described is simply the conjunction of every maximal set of self-consistent propositions, which may include both worlds full of nothing but love, ponies and bliss, as well as worlds full of nothing but billions of babies being tortured for eternity by a billion devils (in fact, it contains the maximum logically possible amount of such suffering). And the reason why God doesn't do anything about it is because necessarily, he can't.

May I go out on a limb and suggest that this is probably not what your average Christian has in mind by the idea that God is good?

Philip Rand said...

Sorry but:

"maximal set of self-consistent propositions"

DOES NOT WORK...

Mathematics is an absolute self-consistent set of propositions that we KNOW we cannot proves are absolutely true...his model is exactly the same...

SO SUFFERS THE SAME CONCLUSION.

Philip Rand said...

I have in the past Godel coded various "God models" and none of them work...

Platonic Anon said...

No, by Analytical I meant Analytical Philosophy. I meant it is best to avoid trying to fit the Platonic perspective into the usual possible worlds jargon of Analytical Philosophy.

I would say God doesn't choose to actualise these worlds.

However, I would disagree with your conception of possible worlds. The Platonist takes all possible worlds to be reflections of God. In essence they all analogous to our world, just under different conditions.

To put it another way, all creation is subject to the primal duality of Form and Matter. Form is a reflection of God's Absoluteness and Matter his Infinity. That is Form reflects his archetypal essence and Matter makes this essence manifest itself under distinct conditions. In our world, I believe, Quality and Quantity are the manifestations of Form and Matter. These are the peculiar conditions of our world. In other possible worlds there are distinct conditions, although they are still manifestations of Archetypal Form and Prime Matter. So, all worlds are analogous to ours, with analogous levels of Being from the Ideal and Angelic to the infernal - although we cannot really imagine the conditions within them. There couldn't be a demon world, or a world that is simply a paradise.

Philip Rand said...

Hold on here Platonic Anon...

If Matter:=Infinity

And I replace Matter with infinity in your statement:

"Infinity" makes this essence manifest itself under distinct conditions.

What exactly is this saying?

I mean, plenty of mathematcial theoreticians maintain that "infinity" doesn't exist...and if it doesn't and their are plenty of good reasons to say that it doesn't...it kinda makes what you are hinging your model on senseless...doesn't it?

Platonic Anon said...

Philip,

When I use the term Matter I was using it in the Platonic and Aristotelian sense, of course.

Matter is a reflection of God's Infinity. You could use the word plenitude as well. Matter separates and limits Form, making manifest all its inherent distinctions and possibilities.

I'm not sure Infinity is being used in the same way as mathematicians use it. But a Platonic argument for Infinity is that finite means there would be a limit on all existence, but what could this be? Non-existence is nothingness and cannot limit anything. And existence cannot limit all existence, obviously.

Philip Rand said...

However, if infinity doesn't exist as an empirical reality...

That just makes the infinity we use in mathamatics at present more profound...though there are attempts to formulate mathematics without the recourse to using infinity, i.e. replacing it.

So what are these distinct conditions, i.e. the constraint that our world is under?

I can think of only one...

Philip Rand said...

"Nothingness" is a piece of information that does exist.

Existence does limit existence...we can see this in physics...

The interaction between the micro-world with the macro-world limits the possible world.

Platonic Anon said...

I was talking in a more universal sense. All existence, all possibility, is without limit. This is because it cannot be limited by existence, or possibility, because this would simply be part of all existence, or all possibility. And nothingness, impossibility, does not exist. It is the opposite of all that is or ever could be.

Philip Rand said...

All possiblity...hmmmmm

Well, I have done some work on why the physical constants we have in the universe (15 of them) are what they are.

And this work appears to show that all the constants we use are constrained by a 1/x power law. And that this law is a physical effect.

I can't go into all the details but I can summarise the basic result.

The median value comes out to be 1 and the ideal value comes out to be 0, i.e. nothingness...which means that 0 and 1 are the cardinal points in the distribution of all the physical constants.

This is why I stated that nothingness is real because it is the ideal coefficient (by definition it is unitless) for the universe...

This constraint is extremely profound because it can apply to any mixed-phenomena...I have recorded the numbers I have seen during the course of a week (a difficult task) and have found that the histogram of the numbers I have seen follows a 1/x power law.

Anonymous said...

When you use the term nothing I think you don't mean true nothingness, pure negation.

Philip Rand said...

One could say that since the "ideal" constant value of the universe is 0 then if one wished one could construct a Platonic model of the world.

Because, in essence if the ideal value is 0 then the values that we do use are the result of measurment error from this value...

Now, this is all very Platonic...don't you think?

Philip Rand said...

No Anonymous...I mean 0, i.e. nadda.

Negation is different...I mean, normally we measure degrees Kelvin in a positive sense, i.e. above 0 degrees Kelvin.

But, experimentally we have also reached temperatures below 0 degrees Kelvin, i.e. -K

Philip Rand said...

If any of you chaps are interested...

If you google images for:

david constantine mouse brain universe pictures

You will find some interesting pictures for thought...

michael fugate said...

"To put it another way, all creation is subject to the primal duality of Form and Matter. Form is a reflection of God's Absoluteness and Matter his Infinity. That is Form reflects his archetypal essence and Matter makes this essence manifest itself under distinct conditions. In our world, I believe, Quality and Quantity are the manifestations of Form and Matter. These are the peculiar conditions of our world. In other possible worlds there are distinct conditions, although they are still manifestations of Archetypal Form and Prime Matter. So, all worlds are analogous to ours, with analogous levels of Being from the Ideal and Angelic to the infernal - although we cannot really imagine the conditions within them. There couldn't be a demon world, or a world that is simply a paradise."

Word salad. Does capitalizing words change their meaning? My dictionary doesn't distinguish between "being" and "Being" - do I need a special dictionary read this paragraph?

Platonic Anon said...

Michael, actually, it isn't word salad. As both Law and the Son of Anonymous seem to recognise. Try another trolling tactic.

Philip, please explai how what you are talking about means nothing?

Anonymous said...

Whew, before reading this comment thread, I never realized that atheists have a holy book.

michael fugate said...

Wow - a snappy comeback Platonic.
Still doesn't make your words mean anything.
So how does the platonic god's lack of dependence on anything else for its existence give rise to form? What is the causal relationship between x and y? If this god weren't absolute - form wouldn't exist? The same with matter and infinity or limitlessness.

Would your answer be different if I wrote it like this:
So how does the Platonic God's lack of Dependence on anything else for its Existence give rise to Form? What is the causal relationship between x and y? If this God weren't Absolute - Form wouldn't Exist? The same with Matter and Infinity.

Platonic Anon said...

Actually, that comeback was from another anon.

The meaning of my words is in the meaning of my words, as others have recognised.

To answer your questions (which seem to show some significant meaning must at least be discernable in what I wrote) all creation is a reflection of God.

The Platonist, however, believes that there is a primal duality in creation between Form and Matter, as I hope you are aware. Other expressions of this duality are Essence and Substance, or the One and the Dyad.

The One or Form in its Supreme summit contains, in a unified way, all the Formal aspects of creation. The Dyad or Matter is that which separates and individuates the Formal aspects, in an increasingly relativist and separatist way. For example, if we take the animal form, this is separated from the One itself and given the matter that all general forms possess. Then the form of a dog is separated from the animal form and given the matter of a specific form. Finally, individuated dogs are given being in the corporeal matter of our realm of being.

The One or Form or Essence is a reflection of God's Absoluteness, his Ipseity. The Formal side - in the example the Formal aspects of the animal and dog forms and the individual, corporeal dogs - of the process in the example is a reflection of God's Absolute essence and nature. We might say these Formal aspects are the static, determining factors. The Material side - here the progress separation and individuation of divisions inherent in the more inclusive forms - of process represents God's Infinity, an expression of the proliferating possibilities inherent in God. We might say these Material Aspects are the dynamic, determined factors.

One kind of symbolism used to express this relationship between Form and Matter is that of male and female. Man is essential, virile, active whereas woman is substantial, nurturing, and passive. They come together to reproduce the whole.

But none of these reflections or symbolism is an absolute duality. Form and Matter, Male and Female, are reflections of God - and that means in his Perfect Unified Wholeness. That means that although Form is more usually reflective of God's Absoluteness and Matter his Infinity, there is a sense in which the contrary is true. If this were not so, it would be to introduce a fundamental duality into God's essence itself.

Platonic Anon said...

Or, to put it another way, if Form and Matter are the primal duality of creation and if creation reflects God's essence, then this primal duality must be a reflection the highest distinct qualities we can discern in God's essence. That is, this duality must represent his Absolute and his Infinite nature respectively.

But because ultimately God's Absoluteness and Infinity are one - and it is only from a relative perspective of that outside the Divine Essence that one can even talk of such distinctions - Form has something of God's Infinity in it, just as Matter has something of his Absoluteness.

Platonic Anon said...

Anyway, in order to explain why privation of the Good can include more than just the slight privation inherent in the ideal realm not being identical to God, a full Platonic framework is not necessary. All that is needed is the suggestion that privation is something like a torch light, in which the light comes dimmer and dimmer as it reaches away into the darkness.

There are certain questions the Platonic framework answers better, I feel, but all that someone advancing the privation of the Good need argue for is that privation includes progressive privation where more and more restraint and limitation is experienced in the successively descending levels of creation. This accounts for what is being referred to as gratuitous evil.

Anonymous said...

Wow - a snappy comeback Platonic.
Still doesn't make your words mean anything.


It was not PlatonicAnon. But you are the second atheist (after Carr) to appeal to the dictionary when confronted with unfamiliar words. What ever happened to the principle of charity? "Form" and "matter" are terms that have been around for 2500 years and were common parlance among Plato, Aristotle, and their philosophical descendents (though they used them differently). If you don't know what they mean, then that's because you are unfamiliar with the Western philosophical tradition, not because they are "word salad". Such positions have contemporary proponents, so to assert that they're incoherent without argument is just begging the question.

Anonymous said...

The lack of charity seems to crop up more often in philosophy of religion than elsewhere. If a philosopher like David Lewis offered a technical definition of possibility in terms of real, physically existing possible worlds, it wouldn't do to quote the dictionary and say that his definition doesn't square with common usage (even though his definition is highly counterintuitive and controversial, and certainly does not square with common usage). And any philosopher who did that would be making a fool of himself.

Stephen Law said...

Plantonic anon said: "Michael, actually, it isn't word salad. As both Law and the Son of Anonymous seem to recognise"

Son of anon actually used the expression "word salad". I'm also generally wary of such jargon-fuelled presentations, because they are a warning sign that someone has fallen into an Intellectual Black Hole. See e.g.

http://stephenlaw.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/pseudo-profundity-from-believing.html

Heavy reliance on jargon is typically a defensive strategy employed to create an impression of intellectual depth and superiority ("oh how unsophisticated of you, that's not what I mean...do try to understand" and to hide the fact that what is being said, translated into plain English, is either nonsense or false.

But anyhoo, Platonic anon's "torch" God is just the sort of God hypothesis I associate with classical theism, a God hypothesis that is indeed immune to the evidential problem of evil for exactly the reasons I set out in my original post above. God, and everything God brings about, is "good" by default. If God's nature is also the reason for everything that is, then there is also at least that much "thin" reason for everything that is, including e.g. privations taking the form of billions of babies being tortured over hundreds of millennia (the actual situation), and so no such evil, no matter how pestilential and horrific, is ever gratuitous either.

Given another 50 exchanges to clarify what Platonic anon et al are trying to say, I am imagine that is roughly where we'll end up.

Where I started.

Philip Rand said...

Well Platonic Anon

I can only give you a brief outline.

Say, you accept the Big Bang Model as true. In the plethora of lay-persons cosmological books available the origin of the Universe is on account of a quantum zero-point fluxuation and leave it at that.

In truth this explanation is only partially correct and left on its own explains nothing, i.e. you are under a self-delusion if you believe that this explains the existence of the universe.

The thing is, a zero-point quantum fluxuation is as it states, i.e. a micro-world phenomenon. What is required for a Universe to come into existence is also a maco-world phenomenon.

So, two objects are required to interact with each other to instatiate the Universe, i.e. the micro-world and the macro-world.

We can model this interaction at the moment of the Big Bang using two equations:

1/ The Klein-Gordon equation describes the micro-world

2/ The Wheeler-DeWitt equation describes the macro-world

Now, it would be fair to say that these two objects interacted at a "point" to generate the early radiation universe. But, a point has no dimension so one cannot say that it models "space", i.e. space has dimension.

Therefore, it would be fair to say that "space" at the moment of the Big Bang did not exist, i.e. space=0...which means that the universe did not exist because the universe is space, i.e. dimension.

What is interesting, is that if one analyses the above explanation of the origin of the Universe and extends it...it leads eventually to an explanation that defeats Dr Law's thesis (I don't like the word defeat)...because in truth his model offers many positive insights to both Atheist and Classical Theist but not ones that are entirely obvious to the lay-person, be they Atheist or Theist.

Philip Rand said...

Dr Law

The only problem with:

"billions of babies being tortured over hundreds of millennia (the actual situation)"

is as Steven Pinker points out in his book, is that this state of affairs IS DECREASING as humans evlove, i.e. we are becoming less violent.

So again, we are faced with the question as to why is human violence decreasing?

Philip Rand said...

Think of it like this...Gilles de Rais killed hundreds of children in medieval France before being eventually caught...

Today, no single adult individual would ever be able to achieve this number of child killings...

The question is why is this so?

Philip Rand said...

Essentilally what Dr Law's model encapsulates quite effectively is this question:

Is Knowledge and the increase of Knowledge a good thing or a bad thing.

Now, if an Atheist says that the gaining of Knowledge is a good thing...the Athesit defeats Dr Law's God of Eth model.

What is interesting here, is that if a Classical Theist says that Knowledge is a good thing...then the Classical Theist is confronted with a dilemma because according to his scripture Knowledge is the cause of Original Sin, i.e. the Humans fall from grace.

This result I find quite humourous...

It means that both Factions are trapped within different paradoxes...quite amusing really.

Platonic Anon said...

Stephen Law,

I meant that Son of Anonymous had seemed to recognise I was making significant points in my subsequent posts; this is implied by the discussion that failed, although he might try and score cheap points by denying it. I will admit my first one explaining the Platonic position was somewhat obscure

One could quip whether that means you are turning your back on Analytical Philosophy (or Continental for that matter).

Anyway, I dispute that my explanations after the first were jargon fuelled. I would submit that anyone trying to explain a complex position in a combox would have to do so in a similar way. If I asked one of the Gnus here to explain some part of advanced biology or physics they would no doubt have talk in a similar way. This would not necessarily be jargon fuelled. It is simply that if one doesn't no the matter at hand it can seem quite obscure to discuss such complex issues. Though I have no great gift at it, I think my subsquent posts were reasonable attempts to explain that Platonic position. You pontificate but I don't see a hint of how one would actually go about this task in a different way.

But you do seem to have ignored much of what I said about the Platonic perspective on the structure of the universe and its relationship to privation - and rather strangely for a professional philosopher you again show no real wish to actually get to grips with the matter or opposing viewpoints. This means that although there is a certain truth in your description of the Classical Theist position, it is also a gross caricature - again you seem, like a common Gnu, to be too much motivated paltry point scoring.

Stephen Law said...

"But you do seem to have ignored much of what I said about the Platonic perspective on the structure of the universe and its relationship to privation"

Not at all. I said that you just appear to be saying what I said right at the beginning is what classical theists say, which I already knew, and which I said avoids the evidential problem of evil (though at a cost, as I pointed out).

«Oldest ‹Older   1 – 200 of 446   Newer› Newest»