Sunday, January 18, 2015

William Lane Craig and ruling out an evil creator on the basis of observation

Here is a post for the philosophers of religion amongst you. Can we rule out an evil god on the grounds that the world is not nearly evil enough? Of course we can. But then why can’t we similarly rule out a good god on the grounds that the world isn’t nearly good enough?
Back in 2011 I debated philosopher and Christian apologist William Lane Craig on the existence of God (link). I presented the evidential problem of evil as my main argument against the existence of God. In particular, I pointed out that, for almost the entire two hundred thousand year sweep of human history, one third to a half of each generation died, usually horribly, before reaching their fifth birthday. This caused immense suffering to both all those kids and also their parents who had to watch helpless as their children were killed on an industrial scale.
That evil is certainly ‘inscrutable’ in the sense that we can see no good reason why God would allow it. This and much of the other evil we see around us strikes many of us as ‘gratuitous’: we suppose there is no good God-justifying reason for it. And God, if he exists, won’t allow gratuitous evils. So it seems to me we can reasonably rule out an all-powerful all-good God on the grounds that the world just ain’t good enough. 


= MJA said...

Why not be God and rule out evil and just be good? Be One, =

Philolinguist said...

Couldn't post this at the CFI blog (It keeps saying I didn't answer the anti-spam question correctly). So here it is:

I came up with a crazy thought-experiment once and I still don't know if it's false. Psychology has amply demonstrated that each of us has a very poor knowledge of what we're 'really' thinking. Hence Freud's famous metaphor of the mind as an iceberg, with the bulk of it submerged in the murky waters of the 'subconscious', the repository of all the thoughts that we suppress and sublimate because they are too disturbing to acknowledge (in case they threaten our fabricated self-image).

The difficulty with the standard notion of the 'subconscious' is that it is self-defeating. If the subconscious is the storehouse of every thought and motive that we're trying to hide from ourselves, then how do we know that our theories of the subconscious are not just more attempts at hiding what's in the subconscious? It's the classic Observer Effect all over again, that we can't use our minds to verify our theories of mind, because we can't rule out the possibility that our minds are deceiving us.

But what if what we call 'the external world' is really our subconscious? What if the nightmare 'out there' is a faithful reflection of what we're really thinking? What if the classic distinction between a) the 'subjective' or 'inner' domain of 'the mind' and b) the 'objective' or 'outer' realm of 'the external world' is a form of self-delusion, motivated precisely by our desire to hide our true motives from ourselves? What if the 'evil god' that Stephen refers to in his problem of evil arguments is none other than us (although I'm not clear as to how 'us' here relates to the first-person/third-person distinction, which I suspect is also some form of self-delusion).

How would this scenario work out in practice? For example, say my neighbor accidentally slips and hurts his knee. I say to him, "Oh that's terribly unlucky, hope you get better soon," and lend him my ice pack. I pat myself on the back for being a good neighbor, and believe that I genuinely wish him all the best. But unbeknown to me, I really dislike my neighbor and wish him harm. I don't want to believe that, because I want to think I'm a decent fellow. So I submerge my malevolent thoughts deep into my 'subconscious', which (unbeknown to me) is the 'external world'. So my neighbor hurting his knee is a direct result of me suppressing my desire to harm him. The desire got sublimated into a seemingly random 'act of nature'. I was the one who (unknowingly) caused him to fall. Multiply that example by billions of people, and you get the 'problem of evil'.

Could there be any truth to this scenario? For those familiar with the relevant research in philosophy, psychology and quantum mechanics, the traditional inner/outer distinction is being shot full of holes in each of those fields. It isn't clear what will replace it, but something like the above theory seems to qualify as a candidate.

Philolinguist said...

Finally managed to post the above at CFI. One of the reasons I suspect that the theory I outlined is true is because the 'natural' evils that befall us are not just bad, they're often bad in a way that seems malevolent. That's why atheists find them so compelling as a case against the existence of a good God.

There's a certain diabolicality to some of the terrible 'acts of nature' that happen to people, including innocent children and animals. Nature seems hostile to us. Many ancient traditions teach that nature reflects our moral state in a direct way, so the hostility of nature is really a manifestation of our own hostility to one another. In other words, it is claimed that nature is our subconscious.

If there was a repository of our repressed emotions and thoughts, it has to appear to us as something 'mind-independent'. We need to be able to deny responsibility for the terrible things that happen there, so we confabulate narratives that conceal or sublimate any correlations with our intentions.

This imperative of concealment would shape the ontology and epistemology of the 'mind-independent world'. So what we assume to be 'natural laws' could turn out to be the 'laws of concealment' that hide the connection with our intentions most effectively.

Philosophy, psychology and quantum physics show that the traditional narrative of the 'mind-independent world' is riddled with contradictions. The real mystery is why we find the traditional narrative so compelling (and how it came about). Wittgenstein talks of "the urge to misunderstand" (PI 109).

If we are using the traditional narrative to hide our true selves from ourselves, then of course there will be a strong 'urge to misunderstand' how things really work.

L.Long said...

Well like Craig I am using observation too, and gawd if real is a psychotic, misogynist, homophobic, bigoted ahole of the first water(there is an old term), he is evil beyond evil.
To support that would require a novel, so take it as my observations.

Anonymous said...

Stephen, WLC was actually flat out contradicting himself by 2012. Check out:

In this he is posed a question which summarises 3 statements of skeptical theism. The first two of which are:

ST1: We have no good reason for thinking that the possible goods we know of are representative of the possible goods there are.
ST2: We have no good reason for thinking that the possible evils we know of are representative of the possible evils there are.

Craig's response is interesting:

"So while you’re right that so-called sceptical theists often do affirm ST1 and ST2, these have been no part of my response to the problem of evil".

I can't see how ST1 and ST2 aren't implied by the quotes you provided from his more recent podcast. I think we can rule out that this was a on-off mistake.

Keep up the good work