Randal Rauser on hating God

Randal Rauser calls antitheism “just, well, a bit ridiculous”:

The concept of God that has been central in the West for millennia is the concept reflected in the Exodus ”I AM” and the Johannine Logos, in Plato’s Form of the Good and Aristotle’s Prime Mover, in Anselm’s being than which none greater can be conceived and Aquinas’s “ipsum esse subsistens” (God’s essence is to exist). It is God as ultimate, unique, classless, origin of all and end of all.

Because of this, according to Rauser, what the antitheist is saying amounts to something like:

“Imagine the most wonderful, perfect, loving, great agent you can exist. Now imagine an agent even more wonderful, perfect, loving, and great than you can conceive. Got it in your mind’s eye? Good. Now guess what? I HATE HIM! Ha! Whaddaya think of that?”

The first problem here is that we may not all be talking about the same concept of “God.” It’s pretty easy to argue that the description of God in the Bible, or the description of God given by modern Evangelical Christians, isn’t a description of the greatest possible being.

Similarly, when it comes to the kind of antitheism motivated by the problem of evil, I take it that the thought is something like, “If I knew the universe had a creator, I’d be angry at him for making such a mess of the place.”

Even if we insist on the concept of God as all-powerful, perfectly good, etc. there’s still a rather depressing thought that would occur to me if I somehow knew there was a God, but everything else I know about the universe remained unchanged. The thought is this: “So the universe is ruled by a loving God, and this is the best he could do?” (In non-religious terms: “The optimist declares this is the best of all possible worlds, the pessimist fears this is the case.”)

Though that wouldn’t quite justify being angry at God–after all, he’s doing his best!–but it’s still not a religiously edifying thought.

  • Steven Carr

    ‘ Now imagine an agent even more wonderful, perfect, loving, and great than you can conceive’

    How do I do that exactly?

    Perhaps it shows a lack of imagination on my part, but I am struggling to conceive of something that I cannot conceive.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      Conceive of the inconceivable!

      • Boadinum

        Rauser is quoting C. S. Lewis’s faulty logic about how a perfect being must have the property of existence. He then assumes that atheists, and anti-theists, must therefore hate that god for existing. Wrong, wrong wrong. No self-respecting atheist will ever hate the god of any religion because none exist.

        Atheism is simply the utter lack of belief in any supernatural being. Anti-theism is an active campaign against organized religions. I think that in the light of what kinds of extreme bigotry theists are now spouting, anti-theism is the proper choice. No violence, of course (we must be better than the opposition) but we must use every chance we get to speak out about their lies and hatred. Use the courts, use the public sphere, be encouraged by role models such as Jessica Ahlquist, let’s just make our opinions heard loud and clear so that hypocrites like Newt Ginrich, Rick Santorum. Michele Bachman, yadayadayada no longer feel that they are taking the high road.

        • karmakin

          I would put it like this. Atheism is the lack of belief in existence of deities. What can be best described as anti-theism I think is the idea that if said deities DID exist, we would oppose them.

          The best way I ever heard it put was way back when on the alt.atheism newsgroup. Something to the gist of if a deity were ever proven to exist, the moral thing to do, albeit probably extremely difficult, would be to oppose it with every fiber of one’s being.

          That’s generally what I go by.

          • Boadinum

            Well said.

          • Marella

            I think it’s also the idea that believing in gods is detrimental to humanity and that we do not subscribe to the “I wish I could believe” school of thought.

        • Robert B.

          And I believe C.S. Lewis was paraphrasing Descartes’ faulty logic. The hole, of course, is that things that don’t exist aren’t required to be logically consistent.

  • Kevin

    How do people come up with such illustrations that are so far off the mark? I mean, he doesn’t even get it right even if we considered the literal etymological meaning of the word. Anti-theism would be against the belief in God; as in, we dislike all these people parading around claiming to know the plan of a perfect being and therefore don’t listen to any criticism because their vision can’t be flawed because they’re following the dictates of a perfect being. Actually, this is typically what the term refers to, so I am not sure how he came up with said (mis)interpretation.

  • kraut

    Nothing but your typical no nothing idiot theist. Next.

  • Steven Carr

    Rauser’s god that he worships allegedly kills children and orders whole tribes of men, women and children to be killed.

    So where does he get off claiming that the god of the Bible is the most loving being that you can’t conceive of?

    Why does the most loving being that you can’t conceive of pass by on the other side when a tsunami wipes out 250,000 children?

    Why does the most loving being you can conceive allow his followers to lie about him killing a child because his father had committed adultery?

  • Patrick

    I don’t get his response.

    On the face of things, he’s offering a “not my theology” answer to the assertions of antitheism. He’s saying that as applied to HIS theology, antitheism doesn’t make sense, because God is defined as the greatest being that can be conceived, and its logically contradictory to say that the greatest being that can be conceived is a crappier being than it ought to be. Now he’s throwing in the usual theistic ignorance, where he doesn’t just claim that this is HIS theology, he asserts that its somehow the hidden, underlying belief of all Christians since the medieval age. Well, that’s wrong, obviously. Ten minutes of life in America is sufficient evidence to establish that. But leaving that aside, his response seems plausible on the face of it.

    But… the antitheist obviously isn’t addressing “greatest conceivable being” theology. The antitheist is typically addressing the God of Popular Christianity, which includes things traits like “roughly matches the description in the Bible” and “is related to Jesus” and “has some sort of salvation system.”

    Now this would be ok, except… for a “not my theology” response to work, the theology being attacked has to actually not be your theology. If Rauser believes in a God who is BOTH a greatest conceivable being AND the God of Popular Christianity, then his answer isn’t actually applicable. The theology under attack actually is his theology; he just insists that this God isn’t crappy like the antitheist says, but actually really awesome.

    To illustrate, just Godwin the discussion. I don’t like Hitler. Now if someone were to claim to me that they define “Hitler” as the greatest conceivable being, and that it was therefore illogical of me to not like him, I’d have a question. Is this Hitler they think is the greatest conceivable being also the Hitler who ran the Nazi party? Because if so, I still don’t like him. If not, if he’s some other Hitler, well fine. Maybe he’s an ok guy, I dunno.

  • lordshipmayhem

    The issue I have with this “most perfect and loving” god, is that he’s either less than omnipotent, in which case there might just be something even more powerful than him who is going to be mightily pissed at us worshiping this nobody, or he is omnipotent, in which case the evidence supports him being an absolute sadistic bastard.

    He wipes all but one family off the face of the Earth in a giant flood (including Methuselah, who despite not being on the Ark and therefore drowned, somehow manages to survive another 10 years or so), he slaughters villages (except in some cases, where the women become the sex-slaves of his followers – the Bible is a wonderful children’s book…), his followers are admonished to kill rebellious offspring, his son kills trees, he does nothing to prevent his creations to commit fratricide, etc. etc.

    No, we’re not talking about a loving and all-powerful god-creature. He’s either one or the other – or doesn’t exist in the first place.

  • ttch

    Your Freethougtblogs colleage Ophelia Benson doesn’t actually say that she hates God, but she does dislike Him…

    It’s not just that I don’t believe in god, I also dislike god.

    But this is likely a reaction to His hating her.

  • benjdm

    I had an argument with that guy once where he argued that a prediction didn’t have to precede the observation/test/etc.


  • HRG

    There is a simple answer to the “greatest conceivable being”-definition: it is as inconsistent as the “greatest conceivable natural number”. Given any consistent concept of a being, I can consistently conceive of a greater one.

  • JoeBuddha

    If it turns out that there is a God, I don’t think that he’s evil. But the worst that you can say about him is that basically he’s an underachiever. – Woody Allen

  • Yellow Thursday

    “Imagine the most wonderful, perfect, loving, great agent you can exist.”
    Well, first of all, is this “that you can” or “that can exist”?

    If it’s “that you can”, then ok. I can do that. But that agent doesn’t exist in the real world because that agent I imagine doesn’t allow suffering or unnecessary death. So any concept of god that I would willingly worship doesn’t exist in the real world.

  • Azuma Hazuki

    The ontological argument is a case of bad logical grammar, specifically a domain error.

    Existence is not a property, and statements of existence are second-order; that is, the statement “X exists” should rather be rendered “I have a concept in mind I call X, and believe that something outside my mind exists which substantially conforms to the properties I have vested in X.”

    Taking this to its illogical conclusion, via reductio ad absurdum, I can conceive of a greater God than the Abrahamic one. It has all the omni-properties of Yahweh, but it does not exist, and its lack of existence makes it greater. Why? Because any omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, existent fool can create a universe, but imagine how hard it is to do that when you don’t possess the property of existence!

    Therefore, by definition a God which does not exist is greater than a God which does, and therefore God does not exist, QED.

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