The “Hard Problem,” Physicalism, and Theism

The discussion on “The X that created the universe” raised some interesting points, especially the exchange between Ted Drange and Dianelos Georgoudis on consciousness. There were two points of disagreement: (1) Whether, and in what way, consciousness is a problem for physicalism and (2) whether theism has a problem explaining consciousness. Dianelos and other advocates of the “hard problem” of consciousness assert that science has made, and perhaps in principle cannot make, progress on the question of why there should be consciousness at all. The argument is that even if we solve the “easy” problem of learning all the neurological correlates of conscious experience, i.e., even when we come to know precisely what the brain is doing when we have conscious experience, we are not put one bit closer to understanding why such processes issue in conscious experience.
When anyone erects a priori barriers to the expansion of scientific explanation into some domain, there is a deeply entrenched idée fixe at work. This conviction can be an item of religious dogma, or it can be a deeply entrenched intuition. With the hard problem, though religious agendas are certainly waiting in the wings, I think the idée fixe is a deep intuition. The intuition seems to be the same for David Chalmers that it was for Descartes: Consciousness just seems to be so very different a type of thing that physical stuff that we just feel, very deeply, that matter, however intricately arranged, cannot underlie consciousness. Consciousness seems truly sui generis, something uniquely unique that surely must be ontologically distinct from matter.
However, as Gilbert Ryle showed long ago—a lesson that has yet to sink in—the mind is not any kind of a thing at all. There are no minds. There is thinking, feeling, sensing, imagining, emoting, etc., but there are no minds. Sensing, feeling, introspecting, and all of the phenomena we group under “consciousness” are functions of brains, or, if you prefer, they are activities we perform with our brains. Thinking is like digesting, it is a series of functions that could probably be carried out in any number of ways with a considerable diversity of mechanisms, but which we happen to do with certain protoplasmic hardware. It is misleading even to speak of “sensations” or “perceptions” since this makes of think of these as things. It would be better, if less elegant, to use a gerundive form and speak of “sensings” or “perceivings.” The gerundive form would remind us that what we have here are processes or happenings, not stuff. Qualia are therefore adverbial modifications of a sensory process. I do not sense yellow; I sense yellowy. Sounds funny, but, as we all know, ordinary language often masks philosophical and scientific truth.
Is there an a priori objection to the claim that sensing, thinking, emoting, etc. are things that we do with our brains? It would have to be a very strong a priori reason since prima facie, if I see material beings thinking, which I do all the time, the obvious conclusion to draw is that material beings can think. Well, maybe the argument is not that matter, in principle, cannot think, but that science can never explain why it does. But why think this? Robert Merrihew Adams argues that science cannot explain consciousness because there seems to be no prospect of ever discovering a covering law that tells us that such-and-such types of material organization will always result in the production of consciousness. Adams is almost certainly right that no such covering law will be found. It is probably the case that there are just too many ways to produce consciousness, and each is so complex, that no useful covering generalization can be found. This is entirely to be expected, though. Laws are used to explain at simple and general levels. When things get complex, scientific explanation is generally not of the covering law sort, but in terms of detailed causal accounts. Why do are the Alps shaped in the remarkable and dramatic ways that they are? Geologists explain the alpine orogeny in terms of thrusting and faulting, which were caused by the collision of the European and African tectonic plates. There is no reference to laws, though, of course, at a considerable explanatory distance, it is assumed that the laws of chemistry and physics are ultimately the cause.
The upshot is that, as William Lyons notes, when we are dealing with explanations of complex things, “why” questions and “how” questions tend to run together. You explain why the Alps have their particular shape by showing how it got that way. You explain why train tracks do not buckle when summer heat causes the metal rails to expand by showing how they are constructed to allow the expansion in hot weather. Lyons continues:
It seems likely that scientists could explain how, neurophysiologically and biochemically, the parts of our brain causally relevant to consciousness are put together and function in relation to one another, then ipso facto the scientists will have explained how the parts function together so as to generate consciousness. In David Chalmers’ terminology, it seems likely that if scientists can solve all the easy problems about the conscious brain then, ipso facto they will also have solved at least part of the hard problem (Lyons, Matters of the Mind, p. 206).
I think Lyons is right. If and when the “easy” problem is solved, then the “hard” problem will simply wither away. This is because the “hard” problem is not really a scientific or philosophical problem; it is a psychological one. Because our first person world is so different from the third person world we know through science, it just feels like the former cannot be explained in terms of the latter, but once we have the explanation, the feeling will eventually fade. The brain causing (or, I prefer, realizing) thought will be like what Hume said about the way all causal relations would look to the newly created Adam. At first to Adam everything would look like a miracle. After a while, though, you get used to the way things operate and are no longer astonished when things happen the way they regularly do.

What about point (2)? Is explaining consciousness a problem for theism? Dianelos and other theists say it is not because theism postulates consciousness as a primitive or ultimate term of their theory. This, of course, makes consciousness not just unexplained but inexplicable. Actually, such a maneuver is theism’s stock-in-trade. If your basic postulation is the existence of a conscious, all-powerful being, you relieve yourself of vast labors of explanatory work. Why are there birds? The poor naturalist has to give a long, laborious, and very incomplete story about the evolution of birds from theropod dinosaurs in the late Jurassic. The Creationist just says that on the fifth day God said “Let there be birds!” and POOF! The air was full of birds! Why is there human consciousness? Again, the naturalist has to give a long, laborious, and inevitably incomplete story. The theist just says “God is already conscious, and he just makes humans that way. End of story.” That is how theism explains anything God supposedly does. You explain human consciousness, birds, or anything by postulating an Occult Effect Explaining Entity that is given the power to produce whatever it is that needs producing. Neat trick. I just cannot help thinking that it gives theism an advantage over naturalism that is the same kind of advantage that theft has over honest toil.

About Keith Parsons
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    I don't think the ease with which theism explains something, or the ease with which theistic philosophers explain via theism, is an argument against theism. Consider some evidence that might convince you of theism (you've mentioned some on other threads), then consider a competing naturalistic explanation for such evidence. If you think the theistic explanation is better, it probably will not matter how hard naturalists toil in giving an account of the same phenomena.

    Further, on naturalism, we can explain almost anything very easily via a combination of an exhaustive multiverse and/or aberrations of perception.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Hey Keith – looking this over again(very short on time lately), after you explain, in responding to 1), that consciousness seems to be different from the physical, you then go on to just assert that it is not. I'm not sure how this is a response. It seems pretty obvious that you are begging the question here.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Alex:

    The problem is this: It is a basic principle of confirmation that a piece of evidence e confirms hypothesis h1 over hypothesis h2 if and only if the probability of e given h1 is higher than the probability of e given h2. Theists frequently invoke this principle to argue that many phenomena, such as the existence of a "fine tuned" physical universe or consciousness, are more probable on theism than naturalism. And, of course, they are right. They have to be. For any e whatsoever, if I postulate an all-powerful being that wants e, then there is a 100% chance that I will get e. Naturalism, on the other hand, has to respect the laws of nature as currently understood in explaining things like consciousness and the origin of the universe. What were the chances that consciousness would evolve in the physical universe given naturalism? Well, apparently a lot less than 100%. In the battle of likelihoods, theism automatically wins. So, consciousness is far more likely given theism than naturalism, and therefore the existence of consciousness strongly confirms theism over naturalism, right?

    No. Precisely the reason why supernaturalist hypotheses–whether they postulate ghosts, souls, or gods–have such enormous obscurantist potential is that they permit their defenders to give the postulated entity whatever kind of occult powers are needed to bring about the effect. They are blank checks that the defender of supernaturalism writes for himself whenever he pleases and for any amount. The only way for a competing hypothesis to have a chance against a supernaturalist one is to have some means to level the playing field. I'll discuss ways this can be done in future posts.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07207877209053281939 David Empey

    "The problem is this: It is a basic principle of confirmation that a piece of evidence e confirms hypothesis h1 over hypothesis h2 if and only if the probability of e given h1 is higher than the probability of e given h2."

    That doesn't seem right to me. Wouldn't you say that e confirms h1 over h2 if and only if the probability of h1 given e is higher than the probability of h2 given e?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Keith: Theists frequently invoke this principle to argue that many phenomena, such as the existence of a "fine tuned" physical universe…

    Alex: The problem is actually much worse on naturalism, as I've stated in other threads. On the theistic hypothesis, at least you have a caveat that a being possessing the omni-attributes must desire e. Hence, instances of gratuitous evil are better explained on naturalism. So at least we have some types of evidence theism does not provide the better explanation for. If we take your fine-tuning example, the naturalist has recourse to (and frequently employs) the hypothesis of an infinitely exhaustive multiverse. This gives us a 100% chance, not only that we will see fine-tuning evidence or consciousness, but that we will see any proposed evidence e.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith,

    You write: “When anyone erects *a priori* barriers to the expansion of scientific explanation into some domain, there is a deeply entrenched *idée fixe* at work.

    Most people agree that scientific explanations cannot decide questions of the moral domain, but I wouldn’t call this is a deeply entrenched “idée fixe”. Indeed I object to the claim that the belief that science cannot solve the hard problem of consciousness is an *a priori* barrier, since I find there are many arguments that justify this belief. Here’s a list out of the top of my head (bellow by “science” I mean the hard natural sciences):

    1. Consciousness is a precondition for the existence of phenomena, and therefore consciousness does not belong to the set of phenomena. Science studies phenomena and discovers knowledge about them. Therefore science will not discover knowledge about consciousness.

    2. There is a possible world different from ours where all true statements in scientific books in our world remain true, but in which possible world consciousness does not exist. Therefore science has nothing to do with consciousness.

    3. If it is the case that a research project that produces a field of knowledge K is such that whether one assumes X is true or is false makes no difference to that research project, then it is the case that nothing in K implies the truth or falsity of X. The truth or falsity of the proposition “consciousness exists” makes no difference to the scientific project. Therefore nothing in the knowledge produced by science implies that consciousness exists.

    4. Scientific research that might tell us something about consciousness would work by studying the brain. If a material system like our brain produces our consciousness then it is possible that our consciousness is produced not by our brain but by some other system not present in our field of experience (as per the computer simulation hypothesis). Suppose one estimates the probability that our brain does *not* produce our consciousness to be X. No matter what science may discover about our brain it will not give us reason to decrease X. Therefore nothing that science may discover about our brain will give us warrant for believing that our brain produces our consciousness. Without warrant that our brain produces our consciousness, any scientific research about our brain will not help solve the problem of consciousness.

    5. It is a fact that science only deals with questions that can be described scientifically. Further it is a fact that science only discusses the existence of X when there is some idea about how the presence or absence of X might be detected by scientific means. Nobody has any idea of how to describe consciousness scientifically. Nobody has any idea of how the presence of consciousness might be discovered by scientific means (hence the problem of other minds, not to mention the problem of whether cockroaches or thermostats are conscious). Therefore the claim that science is capable of dealing the question of consciousness is currently a case of special pleading.

    6. The arguments of why it is reasonable to believe that the brain produces consciousness (the effect of injury to the brain, etc) appear to be cases of the fallacy of affirming the consequent. One can produce parallel arguments using the brain’s environment instead of the brain itself. So, for example, if a person sits in a windowless room lighted by a single bulb, then injuring part of that bulb will cause that person to lose the capacity of visual experience too. The naturalist may reasonably argue is that what we are ultimately conscious *of* is what happens inside our brain, or that we think only *with* our brain, but nothing about what actually produces our consciousness. The argument here is that if the belief that the brain produces consciousness rests on so very weak grounds, then the belief that science will solve the problem of consciousness by studying the brain rests on equally weak grounds at best.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    [That’s my second intent to post]

    Keith,

    You write: “When anyone erects *a priori* barriers to the expansion of scientific explanation into some domain, there is a deeply entrenched *idée fixe* at work.

    Most people agree that scientific explanations cannot decide questions of the moral domain, but I wouldn’t call this is a deeply entrenched “idée fixe”. Indeed I object to the claim that the belief that science cannot solve the hard problem of consciousness is an *a priori* barrier, since I find there are many arguments that justify this belief. Here’s a list out of the top of my head. (Bellow by “science” I mean the hard natural sciences):

    1. Consciousness is a precondition for the existence of phenomena, and therefore consciousness does not belong to the set of phenomena. Science studies phenomena and discovers knowledge about them. Therefore science will not discover knowledge about consciousness.

    2. There is a possible world different from ours where all true statements in scientific books in our world remain true, but in which possible world consciousness does not exist. Therefore science has nothing to do with consciousness.

    3. If it is the case that a research project that produces a field of knowledge K is such that whether one assumes X is true or is false makes no difference to that research project, then it is the case that nothing in K implies the truth or falsity of X. The truth or falsity of the proposition “consciousness exists” makes no difference to the scientific project. Therefore nothing in the knowledge produced by science implies that consciousness exists.

    4. Scientific research that might tell us something about consciousness would work by studying the brain. If a material system like our brain produces our consciousness then it is possible that our consciousness is produced not by our brain but by some other system not present in our field of experience (as per the computer simulation hypothesis). Suppose one estimates the probability that our brain does *not* produce our consciousness to be X. No matter what science may discover about our brain it will not give us reason to decrease X. Therefore nothing that science may discover about our brain will give us warrant for believing that our brain produces our consciousness. Without warrant that our brain produces our consciousness, any scientific research about our brain will not help solve the problem of consciousness.

    [continued in the next post]

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    [continued from the previous post]

    5. It is a fact that science only deals with questions that can be described scientifically. Further it is a fact that science only discusses the existence of X when there is some idea about how the presence or absence of X might be detected by scientific means. Nobody has any idea of how to describe consciousness scientifically. Nobody has any idea of how the presence of consciousness might be discovered by scientific means (hence the problem of other minds, not to mention the problem of whether cockroaches or thermostats are conscious). Therefore the claim that science is capable of dealing the question of consciousness is currently a case of special pleading.

    6. The arguments of why it is reasonable to believe that the brain produces consciousness (the effect of injury to the brain, etc) appear to be cases of the fallacy of affirming the consequent. One can produce parallel arguments using the brain’s environment instead of the brain itself. So, for example, if a person sits in a windowless room lighted by a single bulb, then injuring part of that bulb will cause that person to lose the capacity of visual experience too. The only thing that the naturalist may reasonably argue is that what we are ultimately conscious *of* is what happens inside our brain, or that we think only *with* our brain, but nothing about what actually produces our consciousness. The argument here is that if the belief that the brain produces consciousness rests on so very weak grounds, then the belief that science will solve the problem of consciousness by studying the brain rests on equally weak grounds at best.

    [continued in the next post]

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    [continued from the previous post]

    Now given the above arguments, I suppose a naturalist must choose one of the following courses:

    1. Point out some error in all the arguments that purport to show that science will not solve the hard problem of consciousness, and thus insist that science very well might.

    2. Argue that there are other ways to solve the hard problem of consciousness beside science’s.

    3. Argue that there is no hard problem of consciousness.

    My judgment about these courses is as follows: I think that (3) is awful and akin to a theist trying to argue that there is no problem from evil. One might try to show that the hard problem depends on a concept of “consciousness” which on further thought is inappropriate, but the fact is we all know what consciousness is, indeed we can’t escape knowing it. (1) would be best, but I think cannot be done. Which leaves (2). I never understood why naturalists qua naturalists should not walk away from under science’s skirts. Theists use an epistemology beyond science’s. Why can’t naturalists do the same? After all reality may be a big mechanism such that it lies beyond the reach of science’s tools for studying the phenomena it produces. Indeed the idea that the same tools used for studying phenomena should be applied for studying the reality that produces them is quite groundless, it seems to me.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    Consciousness can be conceived of in two different ways: the first-person approach (one introspects and voila! there it is) and the third-person approach (scientists observing differences between conscious things and non-conscious things). Dianelos conceives of consciousness ONLY in the first way and asks "How did it originate?" There is no way to answer such a question. Naturalism has no answer, and even theism's spooky "God did it," on examination, is no answer either. One reason why it is no answer is that we simply have no workable definition of "God." Another reason is that even if we were to have a definition of "God," we still would have no comprehension whatever of HOW God might create this thing (that we apprehend upon introspection).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Hi Ted –
    Its debatable as to whether or not we have a working definition of God. You are probably in a very small minority amongst philosophers here. And by taking this stance, I think you back your self into a very unreasonable corner (namely that there really can be no evidence for theism).

    As far as not being able to comprehend "how" God created consciousness, this seems a bit irrelevant. There would still be good evidence for macroevolution, even if it was determined that the mechanisms of random mutation and natural selection were inadequate. If we visit a planet in a distant galaxy one day and find floating castles made of silicone (w/no currently known mechanism for their levitation), we would be reasonable to conclude that they were designed, but by a technology far beyond our own. Indeed, when it comes to consciousness, given that we are dealing with a phenomena which in itself is so utterly mysterious, if we are to even entertain a theistic hypothesis, we should expect to find that we cannot elucidate how a being with knowledge and means far superior to our own, would be able to bring it about.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    Alex takes me to have said that there can be no evidence for theism, but I did not say that, or even imply it. What I did say was that in order for "God did it" to explain the origin of consciousness, we need a definition of "God," and that is something which we do not have (at least not in this thread). If Alex has such a definition, I urge him to reveal it to us.
    I also said that for "God did it" to explain the origin of consciousness (at least on earth), we need to have some minimal comprehension of how God might have done it. Alex says that we do not need that. Maybe he is right, but in that case it seems to me that the physicalist, too, can explain the origin of consciousness. He need only say "It arose by physical causes, though we have no idea how." If someone is so easy to please as to be satisfied with "God did it," then he should be satisfied with that as well.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Ted – if the lack of an adequate definition for God undercuts arguments from consciousness to God, then I presume it undercuts any argument for the existence of God.

    As for the tractability argument you are making, surely you agree that there can be evidence for the physicalist view of consciousness, without a complete physical account of its origins? Lack of a causal account or mechanism by no means requires that one is merely asserting that something happened w/o grounds (as is the case with the example I gave). Suppose it could be shown that all dualist accounts of consciousness are incoherent, face insurmountable objections, etc. (as some would say it has been shown). We might prefer physicalism on that basis alone, without any clue as to the mechanisms of its origin.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    In reply to Alex, yes, if we have no definition of "God," then we have no intelligible argument that has "God exists" as its conclusion. [The same might be said with regard to the sequence "Zod exists."]
    As for supporting physicalism, yes, that could be done even if physicalism could not solve the so-called "hard problem of consciousness." You mention refuting dualism. I wonder if such refutation might also show that there is no such thing as the "hard problem of consciousness," which depends on the distinction between the "inner" and "outer" way of conceiving of consciousness.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Ted -

    You write "if we have no definition of 'God,' then we have no intelligible argument that has "God exists". So wouldn't it then follow, that without such a definition, there can be no evidence for theism?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Also – I'm reading Zagzebski's On Epistemology right now. In it she claims that three of the central Epistemological questions are "What is knowledge?", "Is knowledge possible?", and "How do we acquire knowledge?". She then goes on to state that there are differences of opinion regarding which of these questions ought to be answered first, as they are all intertwined. So apparently, some philosophers think we can discuss the nature of things we do not yet have precise definitions of. Don't the objects of most hypotheses have working definitions that are further refined by the specificity of the evidence that supports them?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    David,

    You are exactly right, but what I said follows from what you said. Suppose we have two hypotheses, h1 and h2, and we judge them equally probable given background knowledge. In other words, we think p(h1/k) = p(h2/k). But now we have evidence e and we think that e makes h1 more probable than h2, that is,

    p(h1/e.k) > p(h2/e.k)

    If this is so, then we may substitute the equivalent by Bayes' Theorem for each side of the inequality:

    p(e/h1&k;) p(e/h2&k;)
    ———Xp(h1/k)>———Xp(h2/k)
    p(e/k) p(e/k)

    Now p(e/k) obviously has the same value on both sides of the inequality and we have assumed that p(h1/k) = p(h2/k), so the only way the inequality can hold is if p(e/h1&k;) > p(e/h2&k;), which is what I claimed. Hope this helps. You might want to see Ian Hacking's excellent Introduction to Probability and Inductive logic.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Unfortunately, math does not copy well in the post. I hope it is not too confusing

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Ted – another problem I think you have is that you argue for the non-existence of God. How is it possible that you cannot argue for the existence of God because we have no workable definition, but you can argue against the existence of God, w/o said definition?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    Alex- Without at least a working definition of "God," there can be no evidence or argument for either theism or atheism. Thus far, in the current thread, we seem not to have even a working definition. (If it's in there somewhere, then I missed it.) That is not to say that there could not be such a definition. I'm hoping that YOU will supply it.
    Elsewhere, I have argued for atheism, but in all of those places some working definition of "God" was supplied.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Well, I take it then that your assertion that we "have no workable definition of God" originally on this thread is false. Since you say we cannot argue for atheism without one, and you have argued for atheism, you must believe you have supplied one in the past. Therefore, though it has not been presented here, we clearly, from your perspective, do have a "workable definition of God". Since you are the professional philosopher who has argued against the existence of God, it would probably be more appropriate if you supplied your workable definition. I don't think I've made any arguments either for or against the existence of God here. But I will take the bait…

    How about this definition? God is a being who is perfect, immutable, transcendent, nonphysical, omniscient, omnipresent, personal, free, all-loving, all-merciful, and the creator of the universe.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Ted,

    You write: “Consciousness can be conceived of in two different ways: the first-person approach (one introspects and voila! there it is) and the third-person approach (scientists observing differences between conscious things and non-conscious things).

    I think you are here describing a state of affairs which does not exist. There is no scientific test to check whether a thing is conscious or non-conscious, so scientists do not know which things are conscious and non-conscious. For example, no scientist knows whether, say, a cockroach is a conscious thing, or whether a thermostat is a conscious thing.

    One reason why it is no answer is that we simply have no workable definition of ‘God’."

    I thought St. Anselm’s definition was the standard one: God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived. This definition has several advantages:

    1. Virtually all theists will agree with it, for they will not accept that there could be something greater than God. Philosophers too, both theistic and atheistic, when writing papers tend to use that definition, so it is clearly both a universal and a working definition.

    2. By using the concept of “conceivability” that definition solves the problem of subjective opinion. Given that there are people of different cognitive powers, the greatest concept that can be conceived by each one of them is the one closest to the true concept of God they can possibly conceive. So whether one is a dim pupil or a wise philosopher, the best one can do when thinking about God is to use that definition.

    3. It dissolves all attempts to argue that the concept of God is internally incoherent, for, obviously, such a concept is not the greatest conceivable one. One property that the greatest conceivable concept must possess is internal coherence; even a child would see that.

    So where does St Anselm’s definition lead us? At least in my judgment here’s what that definition implies: Nothing is outside of God, so God encompasses and is the foundation of all of reality. God is not less than a person, and thus possesses the personal attributes of consciousness, freedom, will, power, knowledge, capacity to think, capacity to love, capacity to create, beauty, etc. Moreover God possesses all these attributes perfectly. In particular God only wills what is perfectly good, God’s will to act is not limited (i.e. God can and does what God wants to do), God’s knowledge is not limited (i.e. God can and does know what God wants to know). These last three are the famous omni-attributes of God. Finally God’s capacity to create entails that God will create what is the greatest good. And the greatest good is created persons not similar to God but with the opportunity of becoming similar to God and of entering a loving relationship with Him/Her by their own free will.

    Another reason is that even if we were to have a definition of "God," we still would have no comprehension whatever of HOW God might create this thing (that we apprehend upon introspection).

    God does all things by the direct application of His/Her will, i.e. what naturalists call “supernaturally”. Obviously, anything less would make God less than the greatest conceivable being. Surely it is not reasonable to think that the greatest conceivable being would require some effort, never mind some mechanism, in order to realize His/Her will.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    I am confronted by two different definitions of "God." Alex proposes: "God is a being who is perfect, immutable, transcendent, nonphysical, omniscient, omnipresent, personal, free, all-loving, all-just, all-merciful, and the creator of the universe." That is taken from my "incompatible-properties" essay at: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/theodore_drange/incompatible.html
    It seems to me that if we get bogged down in discussing whether or not Alex's definition is meaningful, it would be too much of a digression from the "hard problem of consciousness" thread. Alex took the bait, but I refuse to reel him in.
    Dianelos gave a quite different definition: "God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived." This one is better than Alex's definition in various ways. Among other things, it requires that God be something unique. [Alex should have said "the being who ....." rather than "a being who ....."] However, I find the definition to be at least as obscure than Alex's. My main problem is that I do not understand how to ascertain, between two things X and Y, which one is greater. Dianelos needs to supply some criterion for that.
    For example, suppose X is something that is immutable, transcendent, and nonphysical (the number 5 perhaps?), whereas Y is a physical being within space and time who is capable of change. Which thing is greater, X or Y? Dianelos needs to tell us how to go about deciding that.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Ted stated "Elsewhere, I have argued for atheism, but in all of those places some working definition of 'God' was supplied."

    I have searched his on-line essays at the Sec Web, which can be found here:

    http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/theodore_drange/

    This statement of Ted's is simply not true. We can see in his 98' article "Nonbelief vs. Lack of Evidence: Two Atheological Arguments", published in Philo, that Ted does not give a working definition of God:

    http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/theodore_drange/anbvslea.html

    It is odd that Ted is demanding a rigorous definition of God w/in a blog comment when he himself fails to provide one in an academic journal, arguing that God does not exist.

    It is even more odd that Ted will not accept the working definition of God that he employs himself in another article of his, arguing for atheism.

    Perhaps both Ted's standards for proper argument and his standards for "workable definitions" have changed since their time of publication.

    Ted – if you would simply share your working definition with us, that would be helpful. According to your previous statements, it appears you do have one.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Ted writes: “However, I find the definition to be at least as obscure than Alex's. My main problem is that I do not understand how to ascertain, between two things X and Y, which one is greater.

    One ascertains that by the same faculty that naturalists use to know that to help a child for love is better than to torture a child for fun. That’s a cognitive faculty we just happen to have, a fact that’s difficult to fit within a naturalistic understanding of reality, but is easy to understand on theism: The greatest conceivable being creating us with the purpose that we should become similar to Him/Her by our own free will, would certainly create us with the faculty of discerning greatness. I don’t think there is really any contention about that faculty existing; the question is why hasn’t God created us with a more objective faculty of discerning greatness. The coherent answer suggested by St Anselm’s definition is that S/He values more that we should grow that faculty ourselves. Which I at least discern as what the greatest conceivable being would value.

    For example, suppose X is something that is immutable, transcendent, and nonphysical (the number 5 perhaps?), whereas Y is a physical being within space and time who is capable of change. Which thing is greater, X or Y?

    I can’t myself discern which if these two is greater, but how is that relevant? The cognitive capacity that God would have provided us would be one useful in discerning Him/Her as part of our path of becoming similar to Him/Her. We all have a rough idea of how God is, and what is useful is to be able to compare alternative God-concepts. Neither X nor Y apply.

    Anyway it’s interesting that Ted suggested the above question. In my previous post I was careful to mention only those implications of St. Anselm’s definition which stay within or close to the theistic tradition (I use a non-standard description of omnipotence and omniscience, but one which is nonetheless found back in St Augustine’s writings). But there is one major implication in which I disagree with theistic tradition, namely the idea that God is immutable. It strikes me as clearly true that a God who can become even greater, i.e. a God who can grow or whose power of creation applies even to Him/Herself, is greater than a static God. In other words I think that the concept that right now represents what is the greatest conceivable being is not an absolute limitation to God’s creative life.

    I’d wonder what an atheist’s sense of greatness would have to say on this last point. After all, St Anselm’s definition works whether one believes that the greatest conceivable being actually exists or not, and the atheist may have an advantage over the theist, namely not to be burdened with traditional dogma.

    One last parting shot: It's interesting to realize that St Anselm's definition implies Christianity. For a God who would undergo kenosis to incarnate as a human and suffer with us is greater than one who wouldn't.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    A brief comment on theistic "explanations": There may indeed be circumstances where we would, as a last resort, say "God did it." It would truly be a last resort, because it would mean that whatever we want to explain we have thereby assigned to permanent inexplicability. The same holds for any invocation of a putative supernatural entities, whether gods, ghosts, or souls.

    A theistic explanation can never move past the ones given in Genesis: God says "Let there be x," and POOF! we have x! End of story. That is, a unique, transcendent, supernatural being, in an incomprehensible, inscrutable manner, and wielding occult, unparalleled powers, simply wills something into being, and it is so. There is, in principle, no hope of ever getting a more enlightening, comprehensible understanding of why or how we get x.

    In my experience, when debating theists on this topic, they generally admit right away that they can offer no account at all of how spirit (God, souls, etc.) can create or even affect matter. Their usual response is the all-too-frequent gambit of theistic polemic, the tu quoque. "Yes," they say, "but likewise we have no account of how matter affects matter." So, in your face, atheist!

    As with the other theistic tu quoque arguments, this one has bark but no bite. In many fields of science, like molecular biology, there is such an embarrassment of wealth in accounts showing HOW causes bring about effects, that the main problem with learning these fields is to master the incredible detail. Even at the basic level of interaction of fundamental forces and particles, physicists have a number of highly confirmed theories, such as QED, that tell us HOW these interactions occur. When you invoke God or souls, on the other hand, you just immediately hit a wall of impenetrable, permanent, and in principle unknowability.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07207877209053281939 David Empey

    Keith,
    Ah, I see; I did not realize you were speaking of hypotheses of equal probability. Thanks for the clarification.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    Alex, I take "working definition" to include partial definitions. For example, in my book NONBELIEF & EVIL, I put forward arguments for God's nonexistence based on only partial definitions of "God." In the "incompatible-properties" essay, the relevant definitions of "God" were referred to only indirectly: as definitions that contain any incompatible pair from the list of 12 divine attributes. As for the essay "Nonbelief vs. Lack of Evidence," the aim there was not to prove God's nonexistence but to discuss technical aspects of certain atheological arguments. For the purpose of the essay, no definition of "God" was called for.

    I asked Dianelos how to test for "greater than." He said that it's the same as the way we "know that to help a child for love is better than to torture a child for fun." That seems to be some sort of subjective preference. What if a sadist were to declare "It's better to torture a child for fun"? How would you refute him?
    In some cases, human preferences are unanimous or almost unanimous. But what about cases where that is not so? Suppose we consider helping a child for some bad motive vs. torturing a child for love. Which one is better? Dianelos still has not supplied us with any CRITERION for "greater than." Until he does that, his definition of "God" will remain utterly obscure.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    David,

    Also, don't forget that confirmation is a relative matter. It may be that e is more probable given h1 than h2, and so e raises the probability of h1 vis-a-vis h2, however, on background knowledge I may still hold that overall h2 is more probable than h1. I hope you don't mind my lapse into professorial mode.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith,

    You write: “A theistic explanation can never move past the ones given in Genesis: God says "Let there be x," and POOF! we have x! End of story

    Sure it can. A theistic explanation can (and should) be of the form: “God did X because of Y”, where Y is a motivation which comports with St Anselm’s definition of God. Therefore theistic explanations are very much restricted and falsifiable. If they weren’t then the argument from evil would be invalid. In comparison naturalistic explanations are much less restricted, as evidenced by the fact that naturalists are explaining observations by proposing fantastic ontologies, such as an invisible multiverse within an invisible multiverse, with the greatest of ease.

    There is, in principle, no hope of ever getting a more enlightening, comprehensible understanding of why or how we get x.

    Surely you don’t mean that. I mean look at all the work philosophers of religion, both theistic and atheistic, are putting in analyzing x.

    In my experience, when debating theists on this topic, they generally admit right away that they can offer no account at all of how spirit (God, souls, etc.) can create or even affect matter.

    Right, they cannot offer such an account, for according to St Anselm’s definition of God there isn’t such an account. As I have been arguing above, if God needed some mechanism to do anything S/He wants (including creating or affecting matter) then S/He wouldn’t be the greatest conceivable being. So God acts immediately; there is no “how” to God’s activity. On the other hand, all we know from modern science, including about the physical closure of phenomena, is of such a nature that it is compatible with the theistic claims about God’s general and special action in the universe. So, it seems to me, the naturalist’s insistence of asking how God did x, is just about insisting that theists give a naturalistic account of their worldview – which is clearly unreasonable.

    Incidentally not all of activity is God’s activity by the way, for we are in the game of acting too.

    [Theists’] usual response is the all-too-frequent gambit of theistic polemic, the tu quoque. "Yes," they say, "but likewise we have no account of how matter affects matter." So, in your face, atheist!

    I suppose those theists are rightly pointing out that all explanations, including naturalistic explanations, must stop at some brute unexplained fact. So, the place of “God does it” within theistic explanations has the same place of “physical law does it” within naturalistic ones, with the significant difference that theistic explanations proceed to show a purpose whereas naturalistic explanations don’t.

    Perhaps what you are saying Keith is that naturalistic explanations go a long way before stopping at some brute fact. But then you give no examples of such naturalistic explanations. The only examples you give are of molecular biology and of QED, which are scientific explanations. But scientific explanations work at least as well on theism as they do on naturalism, so it’s not like naturalism has some special property rights over science.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith,

    You write: “When you invoke God or souls, on the other hand, you just immediately hit a wall of impenetrable, permanent, and in principle unknowability.

    I am not sure where you get the “unknowability” bit. Theists, reasonable enough, point out that given the limitations of our cognitive faculties God cannot be fully known. Similarly the fact that science cannot give us the state of every primitive particle in the universe does not imply that the universe is “in principle unknowable”. Naturalists cannot even agree on major ontological facts, such as whether reality is deterministic or not, on whether causality only works forward in time or not, on whether there is one universe or many, etc., but this I hope does not mean that they hold reality to be “in principle unknowable”. In any case it is a fact that theists know, or think they know, a mountain of things about God.

    As for the question of *how* God acts, as I said before, that’s a meaningless question given theism’s understanding of God. As for the questions of *why* God acts in the ways S/He does, theists have a lot to say. And what theism at its best says is not arbitrary, nor dogmatic, nor based on scripture, but is based on our discernment about what the greatest conceivable being would want to do and hence would do.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Ted writes: “That seems to be some sort of subjective preference. What if a sadist were to declare "It's better to torture a child for fun"? How would you refute him?

    I agree that a cognitively handicapped person won’t be able to make good use of St Anselm’s definition. My point was that normal people (theists and atheists alike) have an intrinsic cognitive capacity to evaluate goodness and personal greatness.

    In some cases, human preferences are unanimous or almost unanimous. But what about cases where that is not so?

    There are indeed such cases. For example I disagree with those theists who think that because of God’s perfection or holiness it’s reasonable to believe that those who resist or in some other sense fail Him/Her will suffer for all eternity in hell. So different people will choose different beliefs about God, and each one will have to live with the implications of their choices. For even though I don’t believe that God meters out rewards and punishments, I do believe that our choices have appropriate consequences. If they didn’t then human life would be a joke and its beauty would be diminished.

    Suppose we consider helping a child for some bad motive vs. torturing a child for love. Which one is better?

    I don’t understand what “torturing a child for love” means.

    Dianelos still has not supplied us with any CRITERION for "greater than."

    I am not sure what Ted is asking for here. I am speaking of an intrinsic cognitive capacity of discernment we all have. The same that atheists use when they write books about morality or about the argument from evil. And, surely, discernment is a criterion of knowledge.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Dianelos, thanks for your comments. They are stimulating and perceptive, as always. Here is why I still cannot agree with you about the value of theistic explanations:

    Any explanation of matters of fact needs to at least meet the pragmatic criteria set out by Bas van Fraassen in The Scientific Image. One of those criteria is that a good explanation should be able to tell us why THIS particular occurrence took place instead of the many other possible occurrences (the "contrast class") in that circumstance. For instance, why did an F-5 tornado destroy the town of Xenia, Ohio on April 3, 1974? An explanation will cite the particular meteorological conditions of that day (the famous "super outbreak") to show why the tornado occurred on THAT day rather than on any of the many other days that constitute the contrast class.

    Consider theistic explanations again. Why birds? Presumably, a creationist would say that God wanted birds, since that is what we got, and whatever an omnipotent being wants it gets. But this does not answer the question "Why birds?" Admittedly, birds are winsome creatures, but why was God not satisfied with the highly successful winged reptiles? Do feathers tickle his fancy? When it comes to God's choices, the contrast class is literally unlimited, and we can have no insight into why God chose to do one thing rather than another. Anselmian attributes are just too general to answer our many specific questions.

    Darwin rightly pointed out that when people tried to explain puzzling features of the natural world by an appeal to God's plan, then God's plan would often seem to be capricious or cruel. In fact, those who cite God's plans really do no more than ponderously re-state what we all find to be so. It was God's plan to have whatever in fact we have. So, no, our insight into God's putative nature and intentions is just too shallow and vague to permit better than arbitrary answers to our "why" questions about God's supposed acts.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    A question for both Alex and Dianelos since you both mention it: Who explains anything in terms of invisible multiverses? I know that some cosmologists think that there are good theoretical reasons for postulating multiverses, and, if so, that hardly makes invoking them groundless or unconstrained. Generally speaking, the times I have seen multiverses mentioned is in speculative contexts. For instance, when theists adduce the "fine tuning" argument, a metaphysical argument, it is appropriate in that case to say that perhaps a metaphysical postulate of a multiverse could explain just as well as the metaphysical postulate of an omnipotent deity. In such contexts of metaphysical speculation, you can legitimately postulate just about anything and not worry too much about the empirical evidence. I have also seen some scenarios offered about what could be if we live in a multiverse, but EXPLANATION is not just offering a scenario, but is in terms of things we know to be so. So, who are these naturalists that explain in terms of multiverses, and what are they explaining?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    Dianelos still has not supplied any criterion or test for whether or not one thing is "greater" than another. Since his definition of "God" depends on understanding that relation, the definition remains obscure. He wrote "I am speaking of an intrinsic cognitive capacity of discernment we all have. The same that atheists use when they write books about morality or about the argument from evil." I myself wrote a book about the Argument from Evil, but have no idea what he is referring to. Dianelos, please just tell us how to ascertain whether or not X is greater than Y. If you yourself don't know how, then at least let us know that.
    Dianelos also claimed that a sadist must be cognitively handicapped. That is not so. Sadists are indeed mean, nasty people, but some of them have above-average I.Q.s.
    I asked Dianelos which is better, to help a child for a bad motive or to torture a child for love. He said he didn't understand the latter idea. To torture a child for love is to love a child and want what is best for it, but to believe (presumably mistakenly) that torturing the child is what is best. A case of exorcism might serve as an example. So, what is the answer?
    I have still another question for Dianelos: Is it possible for two "cognitively normal" people to disagree with one another about whether or not X is greater than Y? If so, then how might the dispute be settled?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Ted –

    I understand what you're saying, but I have even offered to work with your proposed allegedly incompatible list of attributes. We can discuss any combination of those attributes, and whittle the list down to something workable. But you seem unwilling to do so. So there's not much else I can do to further the discussion.

    I also have problems with Danielos' definition. God may indeed be the greatest conceivable being (hereafter, GCB), but I fail to see how this *solves* the problem of subjectivity. Rather, it seems to engender it. The GCB for the Muslim will be a God who has no son and did not undergo incarnation. The GCB for the open theist will be a God who is not omniscient (according to the traditional definition). The GCB for the orthodox Christian will be the Trinitarian God, who chooses to incarnate in the earthly Christ. How such disparate conceptions can constitute a definition of a single entity is beyond me.

    I think you are right about the lack of criterion for "greater than" as well.

    Danielos makes the problem evident when he makes the following claim:

    One last parting shot: It's interesting to realize that St Anselm's definition implies Christianity. For a God who would undergo kenosis to incarnate as a human and suffer with us is greater than one who wouldn't.

    What is it that is of value in the incarnation that is being proposed as establishing the "greater than" relationship? Is it the mere fact that God suffered with us? Firstly, God does not need to incarnate in order to suffer, even with us. The God of some Process Theologians suffers with us, in all instances of human suffering, and even animal suffering on some accounts. If it is the fact that God did so, among us, as a man, I can readily conceive of a greater instantiation of such solidarity. I can conceive of a God, who suffered with us, as a man, for the entire duration of the history of mankind. If it is the extent of the suffering that establishes "greater than", I can conceive of an incarnate God who suffers more, etc.

    What am I missing here?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    Alex, what I wrote was: "In order for theism's 'God did it' to be an answer to the question 'How did consciousness (conceived of in the first-person, introspective way) originate?' a workable definition of 'God' is needed." Do you agree with that or not?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Ted – I really do not agree with it, any more than I would agree that we need a workable definition of "definition". We both probably know what is intended when using the word 'God' in this conversation. But you obviously have some points you want to make about the term 'God' having some definitional problems.

    I'll play along, and I've provided a definition. If that isn't suitable, please lay out your criteria for an adequate definition.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    Alex, I agree with you that we do not need a definition of "definition," since that word does NOT appear within the proposed explanation ("God did it").
    You say "We both probably know what is intended by the word 'God'." Well, I myself do NOT know. Dianelos (the one putting forward the proposed explanation) defines "God" as "the greatest conceivable thing." If you think you know what that means, please enlighten us. What is it for one thing to be "greater than" another in the proposed sense? I myself haven't a clue.
    You ask for my criteria for an adequate definition. One requirement is that it be self-consistent. Another is that it capture the actual linguistic usage of the definiendum (the word being defined) by some significantly-sized group of speakers. The definition of "God" that you yourself proposed fails BOTH of those tests.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith,

    You write: “Any explanation of matters of fact needs to at least meet the pragmatic criteria set out by Bas van Fraassen in The Scientific Image. One of those criteria is that a good explanation should be able to tell us why THIS particular occurrence took place instead of the many other possible occurrences (the "contrast class") in that circumstance.

    Agreed, and in fact theistic explanations do explain why this particular occurrence took place and not another. So, for example, given the definition of God theism must explain why God created something instead of not creating anything. Why God created persons instead of creating only things. Why God created morally imperfect persons instead of creating morally perfect persons. Why there should be evil in creation instead of not. Why there should exist natural evil instead of moral evil alone (if the latter case is at all possible). Why there should be the amount of evil there exist instead of less evil. Why is God hidden instead of obviously there. – Indeed theism must explain all broad facts of our condition, such as: Why do we experience death instead of not experiencing it. Why do we experience an orderly physical environment which can be modeled without assuming any supernatural effects, instead of a spirit haunted world or a capricious world?

    All the above explanations conform what we call “theodicy”. Now I am not saying that theism has discovered good explanations to all these questions. Theodicy is clearly an ongoing project, indeed a still immature one. What I am saying is that theistic explanations are of a type which meet Bas van Fraassen’s pragmatic criteria. There are other criteria I think theistic explanations (i.e. the kind of explanations that theologians offer) conform with, namely they simplify one’s overall worldview, and, what’s saying the same, entail predictive power. I think all explanations (whether scientific or theistic) point to cognitive linkage among previously unrelated things. An explanation that links A, B, and C, has predictive power because given A and B, C becomes probable, and, conversely, given B and C, A becomes probable. For the same reason after one has discovered such an explanation one need not assume that each of A, B and C are brute facts, thus simplifying one’s worldview.

    There is one more criterion I’d like to mention, albeit a subjective one, namely intellectual satisfaction. And I find theistic explanations meet that criterion also. Actually, in my experience, they don’t just give one intellectual satisfaction, but they strike one very beautiful too.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith,

    You write: “Consider theistic explanations again. Why birds? Presumably, a creationist would say that God wanted birds, since that is what we got, and whatever an omnipotent being wants it gets.

    First of all I’d like to point out that “creationist” is an ambiguous term. On the one hand all theists believe that God is the creator of all, on the other hand “creationist” is often used to refer to those scriptural literalists who resist Darwinism because they think that it contradicts the Old Testament, as well as to those theists who, wrongly, conflate the scientific theory with its naturalistic interpretation.

    Now, Darwinism does explain how birds came about, and as Darwinism is (I am sure we agree) a fact about nature, and as nature is one of the things that God does, that scientific explanation fits very well with theism. I suppose then that when you above ask “why birds?” you don’t mean “how did birds come about?” but rather “what is the purpose of birds?”. To that question I’d like to make two comments. First, naturalism by definition cannot answer that question. Secondly it may be the case that theism can’t either, for I don’t think that theism implies that every single fact must have a purpose even though all facts are ultimately grounded in the person of God. So, for example, it seems plausible to me that there is no purpose in a particular grain of sand on the Moon lying where it does and not one millimeter to its left. Similarly, in the very important context of the problem of evil, it is not I think the case that every single evil event E serves an individual divine purpose. The question that theodicy must answer is not “Why did God allow this particular E to obtain?” but rather “Why did God create a world such that events such as E do obtain?” Similarly, it is reasonable to ask science to explain how come there is sand on the Moon, but it is not reasonable to ask how come this particular grain of sand lies where it lies and not a bit to the left. Explanations, in all fields of knowledge, can only go so far.

    Admittedly, birds are winsome creatures, but why was God not satisfied with the highly successful winged reptiles? Do feathers tickle his fancy?

    Well, when we look around and see the sheer beauty and majesty of the universe I think it becomes pretty obvious that God delights in creation. On our planet, a planet of life, God arranged things in such a way that life should evolve exuberantly in all nooks and crannies, including of course in the air. To what degree evolution is guided or whether, say, God had a purpose in the evolution of feathers, I don’t know, and it’s not really that relevant to know. But I notice it’s mechanically easier to produce splendid colors on feathers than on reptile skin.

    When it comes to God's choices, the contrast class is literally unlimited, and we can have no insight into why God chose to do one thing rather than another. Anselmian attributes are just too general to answer our many specific questions.

    The contrast class is practically unlimited in all cases, isn’t it? All that is logically possible goes, doesn’t it? Anyway I both agree and disagree with what you write above. The Anselmian attribute (it’s only one, namely maximal personal greatness), combined with our capacity to discern personal greatness, can potentially answer many general questions, but not all specific questions. First I think it is reasonable to hold that at some level of resolution our current cognitive power of discernment of personal greatness fails. Secondly, as I was saying above, I think it is reasonable to hold that at some level of resolution there may not exist any explanations at all. One way or the other theism has clearly the potential to answer more questions than science by its nature (namely that of modeling physical phenomena) possibly can, and I find theism has already succeeded in doing so.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith,

    You write: “Who explains anything in terms of invisible multiverses?

    Naturalists did so, on two occasions:

    First when confronted with quantum phenomena which for the first time in the history of science were such that allowed for mathematical modeling but resisted a naturalistic interpretation. Perhaps the most popular naturalistic interpretation of quantum mechanics is the many worlds interpretation, according to which every time we switch on a light we cause the universe to invisibly split into a huge (perhaps infinite) number of invisible universes with a copy of us in each one of them.

    Secondly and more recently when confronted with the unexpected scientific fact that our universe’s property of being hospitable to life should be so extremely sensitive to the values of the fundamental constants. This looks like design, and naturalists, perhaps reasonably, must explain all apparent design on purely naturalistic grounds. To suggest the existence of at least 10^100 parallel universes looked at first like a good idea, but it is not clear it works, for a naturalistic process capable of producing the multiverse appears to require even more fine-tuning.

    Now it is at least conspicuous how naturalists in the face of modern science have found it expedient to respond by multiplying the universe with really large numbers. In the case of the “because God did it” claim I too find that it is a non-explanation, but the same I think goes with the various “because there are more universes around” claims. I think you’ll agree that to pick grandiose claims out of thin air explains nothing.

    Here is a case in point why I think that to claim the existence of invisible parallel universes does not amount to an explanation: Let us consider the question of what the probability is that, given our universe’s life favoring fundamental constants, organisms of sufficient complexity for intelligence would evolve by purely mechanical/blind processes. Today science has not provided that answer, but let’s assume it will in the future, and that it will turn out that that probability is vanishingly small. In other words suppose that science should prove that it would require a sheer miracle for us to have evolved by in an unguided fashion. That scientific result would presumably count as very strong evidence against naturalism. Not necessarily, for the naturalist could once again claim the existence of even more invisible universes, namely that for each set of fundamental constants there exists moreover a huge number of universes with the same fundamental constants, and we just happen to live in the lottery winning universe where, quite improbably, complex life has evolved. As Alex has pointed out above, by simply multiplying our universe with large numbers many facts about the universe that are improbable on naturalism can be waved away. But not all; the deep mathematical nature of the universe cannot thus be explained away.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith,

    You write:

    I know that some cosmologists think that there are good theoretical reasons for postulating multiverses, and, if so, that hardly makes invoking them groundless or unconstrained.

    I thought there is no scientific rationale whatsoever for the existence of the multiverse of different fundamental constants. As far as I know no cosmologist was even thinking about the mere possibility of parallel universes existing before the apparent fine-tuning of the fundamental constants was discovered. Further I don’t see why that apparent fine-tuning should be considered a scientific problem in the first place; after all it just represents a property of the deep order that science has discovered in the universe. (Similarly the failure of naturalistically interpreting quantum phenomena is a problem for naturalism alone and not for science, as evidenced by the fact that this failure has not in any way affected the advancement of quantum physics.)

    In any case I’d be happy to stand corrected. Do you know of any scientific rationale or theoretical reasons for hypothesizing that a multiverse of different fundamental constants exists? As far as I understand it, these parallel universes are supposed to be completely invisible and incapable of causing anything to happen in our universe, so there can’t possibly be any scientific evidence for their existence. Without such evidence can there be a scientific rationale or theoretical reasons for assuming they do exist?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Ted writes: “Dianelos still has not supplied any criterion or test for whether or not one thing is "greater" than another. Since his definition of "God" depends on understanding that relation, the definition remains obscure. He wrote "I am speaking of an intrinsic cognitive capacity of discernment we all have. The same that atheists use when they write books about morality or about the argument from evil." I myself wrote a book about the Argument from Evil, but have no idea what he is referring to.

    Right. I know that Ted has written about the Argument from Evil (henceforth AE) for I have read his book. My thesis is that a thinker (theist or atheist alike) cannot argue about the AE without using one’s intrinsic cognitive capacity of discernment about greatness. The AE, as Ted in his explains, crucially depends on the premise that God would want to stop *gratuitous* (or unjustified) evil, i.e. evil that is not made necessary by a higher purpose of God. How does one know that God would want to stop gratuitous evil? One knows it, I say, by discerning the fact that a person who wants to stop gratuitous evil is greater in goodness than a person who doesn’t, and that therefore an all-good person (i.e. a person with the greatest conceivable goodness) certainly does. Alternatively if one thinks one doesn’t know that an all-good person would want to stop gratuitous level, then the AE does not work. It would seem then that in order to argue about the AE both the theist and the atheist must accept that we do have the cognitive capacity to discern or to otherwise justify beliefs about divine greatness or goodness.

    Ted in his book denies that one can discern or in any way justify beliefs about divine greatness or goodness, which is consistent with his current position. In order to be able to argue about the AE he abstracts all knowledge about divine greatness or goodness within the argument’s premises. So he defines the “God of evangelical Christianity” as a being who would possess at least the following four properties: Being able to bring about L, wanting to bring about L, not wanting anything more than L that happens to contradict L, and being rational and thus acting “in accord with his own highest purposes” – where L is a state of affairs similar to ours at present but having much less evil. It would seem that given St Anselm’s definition all theists and not only evangelical Christians would agree with these four properties, but Ted finds St Anselm’s definition too vague, and wants to justify any premise about God by quoting from scripture, which, Ted says, according to evangelical Christianity is true in all particulars. Most theistic defenses against the AE, naturally enough, argue that no gratuitous evil exist. How does Ted object to such theistic defenses? Again by quoting from the Bible.

    Now my contention has been that the atheologian must either accept that he does have the cognitive faculties to judge divine greatness and goodness, or else accept that he cannot discuss the AE. Nevertheless Ted in his book discusses the AE without assuming that he possesses any such cognitive faculties, indeed he appears to deny it. Does he thus succeed to falsify my contention? I don’t think so, because I find that the Bible includes many contradictions, and thus I think that the method that Ted chose to discuss the AE is pointless. One cannot base an argument or base a rational analysis of it on premises taken from a self-contradictory set of beliefs.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Ted writes: “Dianelos also claimed that a sadist must be cognitively handicapped. That is not so. Sadists are indeed mean, nasty people, but some of them have above-average I.Q.s.

    I think that all sadists are cognitively handicapped people, and that some of them happen to have above-average IQs. IQ measures just a few and relatively narrow properties of our cognitive capacity. Some people who are paralyzed in both legs may swim better than most; that does not mean they are not physically handicapped.

    I asked Dianelos which is better, to help a child for a bad motive or to torture a child for love. He said he didn't understand the latter idea. To torture a child for love is to love a child and want what is best for it, but to believe (presumably mistakenly) that torturing the child is what is best. A case of exorcism might serve as an example. So, what is the answer?

    I see. So the question is who is greater in goodness: one who loves a child but mistakenly greatly hurts it, or one who is indifferent or even hates a child but inadvertently or mistakenly greatly helps it. In my judgment the first one is greater. (In any case I’d like to make clear that the discernment I am talking about is more specific than moral discernment, and refers to comparing God-like beings, i.e. beings that one may reasonable assume may be the greatest conceivable being. The two persons Ted asks about do not really apply, because the greatest conceivable being would not commit mistakes like that.)

    Ted writes: “I have still another question for Dianelos: Is it possible for two "cognitively normal" people to disagree with one another about whether or not X is greater than Y?

    Of course; philosophers of religion who accept St Anselm’s definition often disagree about some attributes of God.

    If so, then how might the dispute be settled?

    The short answer would be by looking more carefully. Here I’d like to make the following comments:

    It seems to me that when people disagree about the implications of St Anselm’s definition it is often because instead of looking they let previously held assumptions, such as dogmas, cloud their vision. Here atheistic philosophers of religion should have an advantage.

    All powers of discernment have some limitations. At some level of resolution more knowledge is available only if one directly acquaints oneself with God. Here theistic philosophers of religion have an advantage.

    God is creatively free, so even though St Anselm’s definition implies the high level properties of God, it’s not of course like that definition restricts God in all particulars. In other words, at some level of resolution God is more than the definition implies.

    That people (theists and atheists alike) should have a clear enough God-sense for sophisticated philosophical debates about the attributes of God to be possible, is a remarkable fact. Undoubtedly there is a naturalistic story to explain how such cognitive capacity has evolved in the universe, but here, once more, we encounter a fact about the universe that would seem to be quite improbable on naturalism. Perhaps one can device one more argument against naturalism in this neighborhood.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Keith wrote: A brief comment on theistic "explanations": There may indeed be circumstances where we would, as a last resort, say "God did it." It would truly be a last resort, because it would mean that whatever we want to explain we have thereby assigned to permanent inexplicability.

    Alex: There are several problems with this. Firstly, this notion that theistic explanations are a ‘last resort’, in the sense that they are only to be invoked if absolutely *needed* and all naturalistic explanations have been exhausted, is highly problematic. Laplace’s famous comment (like those of many other scientists that skeptics have hijacked and turned into bumper stickers) do not make for good demarcation criteria concerning good/bad hypotheses in this debate. Why? Well, because there will always be naturalistic explanations at hand, and really no hypothesis, theistic or otherwise, is ever a *necessity*. Hypotheses are generated and limited solely by the human imagination. I challenge any atheist on this board to put forth any potential evidence for God that I cannot explain naturalistically. This easily demonstrable fact backs the skeptic into the corner of having to admit that, by their own standards, there simply can be no evidence that would convince them of God’s existence.

    The second problem with Keith’s comment is that there simply is no such thing as (and ought not be) a “last resort” explanation for anything. There is no big danger of the dreaded “permanent inexplicability”, because any and all explanations are tentative pending further knowledge. If we have further evidence or a new hypothesis that renders any previous hypothesis (theistic or otherwise) ad hoc, relatively unparsimonious, less explanatorily efficacious, etc. – then we simply embrace the new hypothesis! No harm done; there is no science stopper. This is simply how science itself works.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Keith: When you invoke God or souls, on the other hand, you just immediately hit a wall of impenetrable, permanent, and in principle unknowability.

    Alex: Naturalistic explanations hit this very same wall of in principle unknowability in the laws of physics. Theism just goes one step further in being able to account for the laws of physics. Most versions of naturalism must stop with the brute fact of their existence.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Keith: A question for both Alex and Dianelos since you both mention it: Who explains anything in terms of invisible multiverses?

    Alex: Some of the biggest heavyweights: Martin Rees (Just Six Numbers), John Barrow (The Constants of Nature), Alex Vilenkin (Many Worlds in One), Fred Adams (Origins of Existence ), Steven Weinberg (Dreams of a Final Theory), Briane Greene (The Elegant Universe), Leonard Susskind (The Cosmic Landscape), Lee Smolin (The Life of the Cosmos) – and many of these just off the predictions of the cosmological constant alone. Both John Gribbin and Paul Davies also see fine-tuning as the the principal support for, and starting point for serious consideration of, the multiverse. The list could go on and on…Not sure what the problem is here. There is nothing, in principle, wrong with this kind of explanation.

    Keith: I know that some cosmologists think that there are good theoretical reasons for postulating multiverses, and, if so, that hardly makes invoking them groundless or unconstrained.

    Alex: Firstly, *I* nowhere state that there are no grounds for the multiverse theories (though it seems Danielos thinks that). In fact, for the purposes for which I’m using multiverse explanations (which have plenty of problems we could discuss re: fine-tuning) in my comments here, it is better if they are well-grounded.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Keith: Generally speaking, the times I have seen multiverses mentioned is in speculative contexts. For instance, when theists adduce the "fine tuning" argument, a metaphysical argument, it is appropriate in that case to say that perhaps a metaphysical postulate of a multiverse could explain just as well as the metaphysical postulate of an omnipotent deity. In such contexts of metaphysical speculation, you can legitimately postulate just about anything and not worry too much about the empirical evidence.

    Alex: The multiverse is a very serious scientific explanation for fine-tuning and, prior to the Guth and Vilenkin showing that it was not eternal into the past, Linde’s eternal inflationary multiverse even got us around the problem of absolute beginnings. Regardless, Alan Guth is so convinced of the necessity of the multiverse theories, he even predicts that no cosmological scenarios will lack them in the near future. Contra Danielos, it is not the case that fine-tuning was the only impetus for the multiverse. There are plenty of (some would say groundless) versions of String Theory that require them and many think cosmic inflation implies them. The multiverse (or many worlds) of quantum mechanics is not to be confused with multiverses in cosmology used to explain fine-tuning though. The fundamental laws of physics do not vary in this interpretation of QM. Further, there is nothing “metaphysical” about models of the multiverse unless we are using that word in a very strange way. Firstly, there are multiverse models where constants/laws vary among disparate inflationary pockets within the same space-time manifold. Secondly, even quantum vacuum models that spawn bubble universes are entirely naturalistic, and still governed by physical law. Just because we widen the domain of space-time in our theorizing does not mean we are doing metaphysics. The first men to theorize that the stars were in outer space, or that there were galaxies beyond our own, were not thereby doing metaphysics.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    Dianelos said… "I know that Ted has written about the Argument from Evil (henceforth AE) for I have read his book. My thesis is that a thinker (theist or atheist alike) cannot argue about AE without using one’s intrinsic cognitive capacity of discernment about greatness. AE, as Ted in his book explains, crucially depends on the premise that God would want to stop *gratuitous* (or unjustified) evil, i.e. evil that is not made necessary by a higher purpose of God."
    That is a mistake. I did not write that in my book. In fact, I devote a section (pp. 33-38) to explaining why I prefer NOT to formulate AE in terms of "gratuitous (or unjustified) evil."

    Dianelos also says "Ted in his book denies that one can discern or in any way justify beliefs about divine greatness or goodness."
    Actually, I do not address the issue of the intelligibility of an Anselm-like definition of "God" in the book. I have always regarded such definitions to be incoherent, but that is not a topic that I addressed there.

    Dianelos later says: "Ted wants to justify any premise about God by quoting from scripture, which, he says, according to evangelical Christianity, is true in all particulars. ….. Now my contention has been that the atheologian must either accept that he does have the cognitive faculties to judge divine greatness and goodness, or else accept that he cannot discuss AE. Nevertheless Ted in his book discusses AE without assuming that he possesses any such cognitive faculties, indeed he appears to deny it. Does he thus succeed to falsify my contention? I don’t think so, because I find that the Bible includes many contradictions, and thus I think that the method that Ted chose to discuss AE is pointless. One cannot base an argument or base a rational analysis of it on premises taken from a self-contradictory set of beliefs."

    That is faulty logic. It may be that the Bible contradicts itself on OTHER matters, not related to my version of AE. That does not refute my argument. My version of AE remains sound despite that. Dianelos needs to read again what I wrote, perhaps more slowly.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Ted writes: “ Dianelos needs to read again what I wrote, perhaps more slowly.

    Perhaps I should; there is an encyclopedia of information in there. What I think is a pity is that instead of arguing against the God of the philosophers, Ted chose to write most of his book on AE arguing against the God of evangelical Christianity.

    In any case I’d like to know Ted’s opinion about the more recent versions of AE put forward by atheistic philosophers. It seems it is increasingly fashionable to use a single example of an evil in order to press home the idea that this single case of evil cannot possibly be justified. So, for example, William Rowe uses the single case of a fawn’s agonizing death after a forest fire, and Michael Tooley in his debate with Alvin Plantinga in “Knowledge of God” uses the single case of the Lisbon earthquake.

    In particular I’d be interested in Ted’s opinion about my pointing out that the theist need only justify why God would want to create a world in which evils like these obtain, and not why God allows each individual evil to obtain. In other words that if God is justified in creating a world in which evils E1, E2, E3, etc can and will probably obtain, the question of what is God’s justification for a particular evil Ei that has in fact obtained is meaningless.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    I think it is unfair of Rowe to tap into the childhood trauma we all experienced when we were first read the story of Bambi (the death of Bambi's mother usually being recounted to us by our own mother, during a period of heightened insecurity/dependence: bedtime).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    Dianelos says that if it could be shown that God has some good reason for creating a world like ours, in which the various forms of suffering that actually occur would likely occur, then the so-called "problem of evil" would be solved. I agree, but I doubt that that could be shown.

    He also asks me to assess the God-talk of philosophers and theologians, instead of that of lay-people in everyday discourse. I find it to be, for the most part, meaningless. I doubt that such abstruse God-talk (e.g., calling God "a spirit that is perfect, infinite, transcendent, and omnipresent") allows anyone to have any idea of what God is supposed to be.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    Dianelos says: "That people (theists and atheists alike) should have a clear enough God-sense for sophisticated philosophical debates about the attributes of God to be possible, is a remarkable fact."
    I do not find that to be a fact at all when "God" is defined as "the greatest conceivable thing." I really, really do NOT have the slightest idea what that is supposed to mean. Dianelos has NOT explained how it might be decided whether or not X is "greater than" Y in the relevant sense.
    Are transcendent things greater than humans?
    Is something with no feelings greater than a person who sometimes feels sorrow?
    Is someone who never makes a mistake greater than one who is capable of feeling regret?
    Is a merciful judge greater than one who "sticks to the book"?
    For all that Dianelos has told us, we haven't a clue.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Ted writes: “Dianelos says that if it could be shown that God has some good reason for creating a world like ours, in which the various forms of suffering that actually occur would likely occur, then the so-called "problem of evil" would be solved. I agree, but I doubt that that could be shown.

    Yes, but this simple truth has implications for the current atheologian fashion of choosing a particular evil event E and arguing that it has no good reason for occurring. For the atheologian may well be right: that particular evil may indeed have no good reason for occurring, but this does not work as an argument for the improbability of God. There may be a good reason for the *whole* state of affairs in which E will probably occur, while E has not any good reason by itself for occurring. Unless the atheologian demonstrates that it can’t be the case the whole state of affairs has a good reason for occurring unless each individual evil also has a good reason for occurring, the current crop of atheological arguments from evil fails, even if it is successful in demonstrating that E has no good reason.

    He also asks me to assess the God-talk of philosophers and theologians, instead of that of lay-people in everyday discourse. I find it to be, for the most part, meaningless. I doubt that such abstruse God-talk (e.g., calling God "a spirit that is perfect, infinite, transcendent, and omnipresent") allows anyone to have any idea of what God is supposed to be.

    I understand. If we call “nonsensical” all talk which is for the most part meaningless, then Ted holds that God talk is nonsensical. But then Ted must also hold that the argument from evil is nonsensical, and thus that it fails. The atheologian can’t have it both ways: Either God talk is nonsensical or it is meaningful; only if it is meaningful can one point at the evils in the world to argue that God probably does not exist. If the atheologian embraces the latter alternative the question of course arises how it is that in a naturalistic world one can discern God’s reasons.

    I do not find that to be a fact at all [that people (theists and atheists alike) should have a clear enough God-sense for sophisticated philosophical debates about the attributes of God to be possible] when "God" is defined as "the greatest conceivable thing." I really, really do NOT have the slightest idea what that is supposed to mean.

    Well, it’s a demonstrable fact that many such debates are about the God of the philosophers, namely the one defined as the greatest conceivable thing. But perhaps both sides are fooling themselves into believing they know what they are talking about.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Ted wrote: “Dianelos has NOT explained how it might be decided whether or not X is "greater than" Y in the relevant sense.

    But I have, repeatedly. I discern whether A or B idea about God is greater by direct discernment, in a way comparable to the clarity (and perhaps comparable to the error proneness) of discerning whether A or B is warmer. Incidentally, people have long spoken about whether A or B is warmer before the discovery of thermometers.

    Are transcendent things greater than humans?
    Is something with no feelings greater than a person who sometimes feels sorrow?
    Is someone who never makes a mistake greater than one who is capable of feeling regret?
    Is a merciful judge greater than one who "sticks to the book"?
    For all that Dianelos has told us, we haven't a clue.

    These questions do not apply, because the power of discernment I claim refers to God-like things. If reformulated for that context, I think I would be able state the answer I discern.

    Incidentally, there is a similar case to made about moral discernment: I once read atheist philosopher’s James Rachels “The Elements of Moral Philosophy”. In it he systematically describes a moral theory, then points out a state of affairs where that theory produces the wrong result, then discusses a variation of the same theory that works with that state of affairs, then points out a new state of affairs that falsifies the new version, etc. The interesting thing is that Rachels somehow knew that a particular result of a moral theory was false, without explaining how he knew it. Apparently he directly discerned it, and assumed that all his readers would discern it too. He assumed this with so much confidence that he didn’t give the matter a second thought. I suppose that, similarly, atheologian philosophers who discuss what God would want or would primarily want, assume that everybody has the respective power of discernment for realizing the sense of what they are talking about.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    Dianelos says: "This simple truth has implications for the current atheologian fashion of choosing a particular evil event E and arguing that it has no good reason for occurring." I have no idea what "simple truth" he might be referring to here.

    Dianelos also asks how the Argument from Evil (AE) might be sound if God-talk is meaningless. I divide definitions of "God" into three groups: (1) those (like "the greatest conceivable thing") that make God-talk cognitively meaningless (with no truth value at all), (2) those (like "the immutable being who loves everybody") that make God-talk self-contradictory (or false a priori), and (3) those (like "the ruler of the universe who loves everybody") that make God-talk empirically false. My own version of AE is applied ONLY to God-talk in category (3). Some other essays relevant to that category are found in the Martin/Monnier anthology THE IMPROBABILITY OF GOD. Essays relevant to category (2) are found in their anthology THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF GOD. With regard to category (1), the only correct position to take is that of noncognitivism, and, as Dianelos says, both theists and atheists "are fooling themselves into believing they know what they are talking about."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    Dianelos wrote: "I have, repeatedly, explained how it might be decided whether or not X is 'greater than' Y in the relevant sense. I discern whether A or B idea about God is greater by direct discernment, in a way comparable to the clarity (and perhaps comparable to the error proneness) of discerning whether A or B is warmer."
    I do not understand that. We ascertain whether or not X is warmer than Y by our sense of touch. What sense might we use to ascertain whether or not X is greater than Y?
    Also, what does it mean to speak of "whether A or B idea of God is greater"? Is that even grammatical? In order to understand the expression "greatest conceivable thing," we need to understand "greater than," and Dianelos thus far has not defined the latter term in any intelligible way.

    Dianelos says he will answer my four sample questions if they are reformulated with respect to God-like beings. OK, here they are, thus reformulated:
    (1) Are God-like beings outside space and time greater than God-like humans?
    (2) Are God-like beings who have no feelings greater than God-like beings who sometimes feel sorrow?
    (3) Are God-like beings who never make a mistake greater than God-like beings who are capable of feeling regret?
    (4) Are God-like merciful judges greater than God-like judges who "stick to the book"?
    What are your answers, Dianelos? Also, is it possible that there may be bright people who give different answers?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Ted wrote: “Dianelos says: ‘This simple truth has implications for the current atheologian fashion of choosing a particular evil event E and arguing that it has no good reason for occurring.’ I have no idea what ‘simple truth’ he might be referring to here.

    Sorry for the ambiguity. I meant was that if it could be shown that God has some good reason for creating a world like ours, in which the various forms of suffering that actually occur would likely occur, then the so-called "problem of evil" would be solved. My point was that given this simple truth the current fashion of picking one particular evil for arguing against the existence of God is ill-advised. For the existence of God does not imply that there is a justification for each single evil, but only that there is a justification for the whole of creation such as is it.

    I divide definitions of "God" into three groups: (1) those (like "the greatest conceivable thing") that make God-talk cognitively meaningless (with no truth value at all), (2) those (like "the immutable being who loves everybody") that make God-talk self-contradictory (or false a priori), and (3) those (like "the ruler of the universe who loves everybody") that make God-talk empirically false. My own version of AE is applied ONLY to God-talk in category (3).

    I still fail to see how one can discuss God in category (3) without making use of the “greatest conceivable being” definition of (1). For example, suppose that using the premise that God loves everybody, I’d were to claim that therefore God wishes the best for everybody. Here I’d been using my own discernment of how God’s love would be according to how (1) describes God. After all (3) alone does not say what kind of love God feels for everybody. There is also egoistical love, and (3) alone could also imply that God loves everybody temporarily and for his own pleasure; for all we know the (3) type of God enjoys seeing those who have disobeyed him eternally suffer in hell.

    Now I understand that the atheologian uses the AE to prove that there is an internal contradiction (logical or probable) in the theistic ontology. Perhaps the atheologian could pick a set of premises that are widely held by theists and use them to build a successful AE. That’s indeed what Ted gestures at in the end of his book where he defines the “God of liberal Christianity”. The problem I see with this strategy is that for the theist who accepts definition (1) as primary, the fact that this version of AE works simply shows that some premise X is false. Unless the atheologian can argue on other grounds (say that one can clearly discern that according to (1) premise X is true) the atheologian will have simply helped the freethinking theologian improve their understanding of God by showing that premise X is false. Pointing out that most theists, or perhaps some eminent theists, believe X does not get any traction with a freethinking theist.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Ted wrote: “I do not understand that. We ascertain whether or not X is warmer than Y by our sense of touch. What sense might we use to ascertain whether or not X is greater than Y?

    For all I care we can call that sense the “sense of divine greatness”. For me the important thing is that I find I do possess that sense. Further I observe that many philosophers, theists and atheists alike, also possess it, or at least behave as if they possess it in a way that I recognize as being mostly consistent with mine, and further manage to intelligently debate with each other based on that shared sense. Therefore, unless Ted can come up with a defeater for my belief that I possess that sense, I don’t see the relevance of his claim that he doesn’t.

    (1) Are God-like beings outside space and time greater than God-like humans?

    Humans are not God-like, so this question makes no sense.

    (2) Are God-like beings who have no feelings greater than God-like beings who sometimes feel sorrow?

    A God-like being who feels, is greater that a God-like being that doesn’t. “Sorrow” is an ambiguous concept for me to be able to give a more specific answer. I will state though that a God-like being who can and does sometimes suffer is greater than a God-like being who cannot or who never does.

    (3) Are God-like beings who never make a mistake greater than God-like beings who are capable of feeling regret?

    A God-like being who never makes a mistake is greater than a God-like being who does (whether afterwards feeling regret or not is irrelevant).

    (4) Are God-like merciful judges greater than God-like judges who "stick to the book"?

    If by “judge” we understand somebody who first establishes if there is guilt and then if there is meters out appropriate punishment, then there are no God-like judges. God is not a judge. But God is just, in the sense that S/He has created the world in such a way that actions always have consequences (which in Eastern religions is called the law of Karma), albeit perhaps not necessarily individual consequences. Further, among a God-like being who always sticks to the book and one who doesn’t, I find that the latter I greater.

    What are your answers, Dianelos?

    Please see above; I wonder if you can recognize some glimmer of truth in them. Of course these answers reflect what I discern, and I don’t, thank goodness, claim any infallible powers.

    Also, is it possible that there may be bright people who give different answers?

    Of course. Even though I believe that all normal people possess that power of discernment it’s not the case that the acuity of that sense is equal in all people. That acuity I believe depends on many factors, and primarily on the purity of one’s heart. But I think other factors, such as carefully and freely thinking about God (whether one believes God exists or not) also help.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    Dianelos wrote: "Unless Ted can come up with a defeater for my belief that I possess a sense of divine greatness, I don’t see the relevance of his claim that he doesn’t."
    It's not just that I lack the alleged sense, I don't have any idea what it is supposed to be.
    Dianelos has defined "God" as "the greatest conceivable thing" and when I asked what he meant by "great" in that context, his reply was that it is a property that he ascertains by appeal to "his sense of divine greatness." It's all gobbledegook to me.

    In an effort to try to comprehend Dianelos' "greatness-talk," I asked “(1) Are God-like beings outside space and time greater than God-like humans?” Dianelos replied "Humans are not God-like."
    What about Jesus? Wasn't he supposed to be God-like?

    Let me rephrase the question: Are God-like beings outside space and time greater than God-like beings who are within space and time? What is your answer?

    Another question: "(2) Are God-like beings who have no feelings greater than God-like beings who sometimes feel sorrow?”
    Dianelos replied: "A God-like being who feels, is greater than a God-like being that doesn’t. [Also] a God-like being who can and does sometimes suffer is greater than a God-like being who cannot or who never does."
    Well, suppose someone were to disagree with that. How could you prove him wrong? [If you were to say "X is warmer than Y" and someone were to disagree, then there are objective means for proving him wrong. Is there nothing at all like that in the case of what you call "the sense of divine greatness"?]

    In reply to my question “Is it possible that there may be bright people who give different answers?”
    Dianelos said "Of course. Even though I believe that all normal people possess that power of discernment, it’s not the case that the acuity of that sense is equal in all people. That acuity I believe depends on many factors, and primarily on the purity of one’s heart. But I think other factors, such as carefully and freely thinking about God (whether one believes God exists or not) also help."
    This reply makes sense only if we have some intelligible definition of "God," and, thus far, Dianelos has NOT provided that.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    I wrote: “I divide definitions of "God" into three groups: (1) those (like "the greatest conceivable thing") that make God-talk cognitively meaningless (with no truth value at all), (2) those (like "the immutable being who loves everybody") that make God-talk self-contradictory (or false a priori), and (3) those (like "the ruler of the universe who loves everybody") that make God-talk empirically false. My own version of AE is applied ONLY to God-talk in category (3).”

    Dianelos replied: "I still fail to see how one can discuss God in category (3) without making use of the “greatest conceivable being” definition of (1)."

    My example of a category-(3) definition of "God" was "God is the ruler of the universe who loves everybody." My claim about this definition is that it is an empirical question whether or not God exists when "God" is defined in this way. I have no idea what the expression "the greatest conceivable being" (which I say is nonsense) has to do with my claim above. Dianelos is not making any sense here.
    I grant that in order for us to investigate whether or not there exists a ruler who loves everybody, we need some working definition of the verb "to love," but I do not see any major obstacle to acquiring such a working definition.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Ted wrote: “What about Jesus? Wasn't he supposed to be God-like?

    No, of course not. That Jesus was God incarnate does not imply that Jesus was a God-like being. After all Jesus had a physical body, felt temptation, doubt, etc.

    Are God-like beings outside space and time greater than God-like beings who are within space and time? What is your answer?

    That’s a false dichotomy. Let me explain using my own capacity of discernment: The greatest conceivable being can’t be less than a creative person; thus God experiences His/Her creative life within time and within a space of possibilities. Indeed it is within space and time that God interacts with us. On the other hand the greatest conceivable being has also non-personal attributes, attributes which may be outside of space and time. For example God is the ground of all being (including the ground *of* space and time). When in classical theism it is said that God is a person, the meaning is not that God is just like we are but “infinitely” better in all our human attributes. That would be an anthropomorphic conception of God, which is or course erroneous.

    This reply [i.e. that by carefully and freely thinking about God one discerns better personal greatness] makes sense only if we have some intelligible definition of "God," and, thus far, Dianelos has NOT provided that.

    I don’t think that’s the way we learn. It’s not like one needs an “intelligible” definition of “warmth”, before setting out to study what it is one perceives as being warm.

    I grant that in order for us to investigate whether or not there exists a ruler who loves everybody, we need some working definition of the verb "to love," but I do not see any major obstacle to acquiring such a working definition.

    I on the contrary see a major problem here: Suppose, for example, I claimed that God’s love for all people entails that God wishes the best for all people. Without some power of discernment about maximal greatness, how would we decide if that claim is true? But suppose we agree that it is true. How are we then to investigate what God values most, and thus thinks is best for all people? And without some basis for discovering what God values most, how are we to think about whether there is a justification of the evils in the world we experience? A category-3 definition (such as “God is the ruler of the universe who loves everybody”) strikes me as simply inadequate for thinking about God and discovering what God’s attributes are. But without having a good idea about God’s attributes, how are we to discover if God exists or not? Or whether the hypothesis that God exists explains the whole of our experience of life, as theists claim?

    I think Ted wishes for a definition of God in terms that make sense to a naturalist, or that make sense if naturalism is true. I think it is clear enough that if theism is true then such a definition does not exist.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Well, suppose someone were to disagree with [your claims about God’s attributes based on your own claimed capacity of discernment of greatness]. How could you prove him wrong? If you were to say "X is warmer than Y" and someone were to disagree, then there are objective means for proving him wrong. Is there nothing at all like that in the case of what you call "the sense of divine greatness"?

    When people disagree about whether X is warmer than Y the objective means is to build a thermometer to find out. Similarly, when people disagree about whether God-concept X is greater than Y the objective means is to build a relationship with God to find out. In both cases people must think carefully about what they are able to discern only subjectively at first, in order to understand how to discover more knowledge about it. For example, if one does not understand what “warmer” means, and why a thermometer is a good way to find out whether X is warmer than Y, and how to build a thermometer, and how to test if the thermometer work well – then just having another person bring in a thermometer won’t help.

    At this juncture some argue that given that theists, even “expert” theists, disagree so much among themselves they are probably imagining things. On the other hand naturalists, even “expert” naturalists, also disagree among themselves, and here the disagreements appear to be much deeper. Also, whereas theistic beliefs slowly converge, naturalistic beliefs are diverging. So any force this line of argument may have works more against naturalism than against theism.

    What I am basically saying is this: According to all religions there is a religious/spiritual dimension in reality, indeed that’s reality’s primary dimension. Thus, the religious claim is an intrinsically empirical one and should be dealt with under the same epistemic principles any empirical claim is subject to. Without begging the question of course; so for example expecting the spiritual reality to have the same particular properties that physical reality has is absurd. (Thus it is absurd to expect spiritual reality to be testable by scientific instruments designed to measure physical properties). One epistemic principle that clearly applies though is that if there is a spiritual dimension to reality we should be able to experience it though some kind of sense perception; we should have some power to discern basic truths about it.

    Ted insists a lot about the objective means for reaching agreement. Now in physical reality people may disagree about the color of a ball when they look at it from two different directions. Such disagreements are easily dispelled though, simply by walking around the ball. Where such “walking around the object” is not possible, such as is the case with the Big Bang, disagreements are more difficult to resolve, even in the case of physical reality. Perhaps for a long time there will be a number of different models of the Big Bang that explain some or even all phenomena; how is then one to decide which is the correct one? Metaphysics is much harder still; when talking about issues of ultimate reality there is no such thing as “walking around the object”. Still I think the same basic principles apply to metaphysics: The view that works best (i.e. is the more internally conherent, is more compatible all the data we have from our experience of life, has more explanatory power, etc) is more probably true. As things stand it seems that several religious views work comparably well. The relevant question is whether metaphysical naturalism (which entails that there is not a religious/spiritual dimension to reality) also works comparably well, and in my judgment at least it doesn’t, not by a long shot.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    Dianelos said "Ted's question whether God-like beings outside space and time are greater than God-like beings within space and time presents a false dichotomy. The greatest conceivable being can’t be less than a creative person; thus God experiences life and interacts with us within space and time. On the other hand the greatest conceivable being has also attributes which may be outside of space and time. For example, God is the ground of all being (including the ground *of* space and time)."

    It is hard to discuss these matters with Dianelos, since he insists on using the expression "the greatest conceivable being" when the very issue for discussion is whether or not that expression is intelligible. All I want to know is what is it that is supposed to make something "greater" than something else in the relevant sense, and Dianelos apparently cannot answer that. Until he supplies some clarification, the terms "greater" and "greatest" remain UNDEFINED, which, to me, makes them (along with his definition of "God") meaningless.

    Dianelos said "One does not need an 'intelligible' definition of 'warmth' before setting out to study what it is one perceives as being warm."

    I do not understand what his point is here. Obviously no one can study what warmth is without having at least some minimal idea of what "warm," or some equivalent term, is supposed to mean. In the case of "greater" and "greatest," he has not supplied even a minimal idea of what he is talking about.

    Dianelos said "Ted claims to see no major obstacle to acquiring a definition of the verb 'to love' in the investigation of whether or not there exists a ruler who loves everybody. But I see a major problem here: Suppose, for example, I claimed that God’s love for all people entails that God wishes the best for all people. How are we then to investigate what God thinks is best for all people?"

    I reject Dianelos' definition of "loving X" in terms of "wishing what one thinks is best for X." I would instead define it as "wanting to maximize X's happiness." I see no major problem with THAT definition.

    Dianelos said "Ted wishes for a definition of God in terms that make sense to a naturalist, or that make sense if naturalism is true."

    That is totally false. I place no such restriction. All I want is a definition that makes SOME sense, any sense, at all. Thus far, Dianelos has not supplied that.


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