20+ Questions for Theists

(This post was last edited on 21-Jun-12, by reorganizing the list into a more logical sequence. I apologize in advance for the inconvenience this may cause to people who have posted comments or their own articles discussing these.)

As a follow-up to my last post, I compiled a list of my own questions for theists. I’m sure readers will have many of their own to add.

  1. The question “Why is there something rather than nothing” presupposes “nothing” as being  the normal state of affairs. Why believe that? Why can’t we flip the question on its head? In other words, why can’t it be the case that the normal state of affairs is for things to actually exist and nothingness itself would be weird?  (HT: Thy Kingdom Come (Undone))
  2. Given that the universe has a finite age, why did the universe begin with time rather than in time?
  3. Why is so much of our universe intelligible without any appeal to supernatural agency? Why does the history of science contains numerous examples of naturalistic explanations replacing supernatural ones and no examples of supernatural explanations replacing naturalistic ones?
  4. Why is the physical universe so unimaginably large?
  5. If you believe that visual beauty is evidence of God, why isn’t the universe saturated with auditory, tactile, or other non-visual types of sensory beauty?
  6. If you believe the universe is fine-tuned for intelligent life, why isn’t our universe teeming with life, including life much more impressive than human life?
  7. Why would God use biological evolution as a method for creation? Do you have any answer that is independent of the scientific evidence for evolution?
  8. Why would God desire to create embodied moral agents, as opposed to unembodied minds (such as souls, spirits, or ghosts)? Why is the human mind dependent on the physical brain?
  9. Did Australopithecus have a soul? What about homo habilis? Homo erectus? Neanderthals? Why or why not? (HT: Keith Parsons)
  10. How do souls interact with physical matter? Do you have any answer that is not tantamount to “I don’t know?” (HT: Keith Parsons)
  11. If you believe humans have free will, why would humans have free will if God exists? Why are we able to exercise free will in some situations but not others?
  12. Why are pain and pleasure so connected to the biological goals of survival and reproduction, but morally random? Is there some greater good that logically requires (or logically requires risking) that suffering be used to motivate animals to pursue the biological goal of self-preservation? Does some moral end make it desierable for suffering to continue even when it serves no biological purpose? For example, why do sentient beings, including animals which are not moral agents, experience pain or pleasure that we do not know to be biologically useful?
  13. Why do only a fraction of living things, including the majority of sentient beings, thrive? In other words, why do very few living things have an adequate supply of food and water, are able to reproduce, avoid predators, and remain healthy? Why would God create a world in which all sentient beings savagely compete with one another for survival? Why do an even smaller fraction of organisms thrive for most of their lives? Why do almost no organisms thrive for all of their lives? 
  14. Why is there social evil, i.e., instances of pain or suffering that results from the game-theoretic interactions of many individuals? 
  15. Why does God allow horrific suffering (and relatively little glorious pleasure)?
  16. Why does horrific suffering often destroy a person, at least psychologically, and prevent them from growing morally, spiritually, and intellectually?
  17. Why is there nonculpable (reasonable) nonbelief in God? Why are there former believers, i.e., people who, from the perspective of theism, were on the right path when they lost belief? Why are there so many people who gave their lives to God only to discover there is no God? Why are there lifelong seekers? Why are there converts to nontheistic religions and especially nonresistant believers who arrive as a result of honest inquiry at nontheistic experiences and beliefs? Why are there isolated nontheists, i.e., people who have never so much as had the idea of God?
  18. Why do some believers feel there is evidence for God’s existence on which they may rely, but in which God is not felt as directly present to her experience, and may indeed feel absent?
  19. Why are there such striking geographic differences in the incidence of theistic belief? Why does
    theistic belief vary dramatically with cultural and national boundaries? For example, why does a population of millions of non-theists persist in Thailand but not in Saudi Arabia? And why has the global incidence of theistic belief varied dramatically over time, i.e., during the existence of the human species?
  20. Why do only some people have religious experiences? In particular, why is it that most of the people who do have religious experiences almost always have a prior belief in God or extensive exposure to a theistic religion?
  21. For those people who do have religious experiences, why do they pursue a variety of radically different religious paths, none of which bears abundantly more moral fruit than all of the others?
  22. Why do so many people report not experiencing God’s comforting presence in the face of tragedies?
  23. Why does the the relatively new discipline of cognitive science of religion support the claim that we have a Hyperactive Agency Detection Device (HADD), which causes human beings to naturally form beliefs about invisible agents? Considering HADD’s poor track record of producing true beliefs about invisible agents in general, why should we trust it when it produces a belief about one invisible agent, the God of theism?
  24. Why does God allow such confusion or disagreement among people, including theists, about what is morally good or bad and morally right or wrong?
  25. Why should we believe that, of the innumerable deities worshipped by human beings over the ages, yours is the one that really exists?  Why believe in Yahweh rather than Zeus, Odin, Marduk, Ishtar, Osiris, Quetzalcoatl, Madame Pele, Ahura-Mazda, etc., etc., etc.? (HT: Keith Parsons)

About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12132821431322748921 LadyAtheist

    I think "Why won't God heal amputees" is an oldie but a goodie

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12045468316613818510 Blue Devil Knight

    Some interesting questions.One seems a bit odd:
    "Why do pain and pleasure play the biological role they do? For example, why do sentient beings experience pain or pleasure that we do not know to be biologically useful?"

    People who congenitally are unable to feel pain have horrible lives, lacking the basic feedback mechanisms to inhibit injurious activity (as children they often chew the skin off their fingers).

    Pleasure/pain form the basis of adaptive learning (operant conditioning).

    I guess I am missing something here, as it seems like an easy one, and largely orthogonal to theism/atheism.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11030669424412573308 Chris

    A few typos:

    #10 the verbs should be 'destroy' and 'prevent'
    #17 the verb should be 'support'

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    BDK: I wasn't clear as I could have been. I've revised #6 to hopefully clarify this. Note that #6 is basically Draper's evidential argument from evil which, IMO, is the strongest version of the evidential argument from evil. If you're not familiar with the argument, I highly recommend you check it out.

    Chris: Thanks. I noticed those earlier this morning, but you posted your comment before I had a chance to fix them.

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

    Jeff,

    Any Bible-believing Christian could easily answer these. Here are some sample answsers:

    1. Why is the physical universe so unimaginably large?

    Because God wanted it that way.

    2. Why would God desire to create embodied moral agents, as opposed to disembodied minds (such as souls, spirits, or ghosts)? Why is the human mind dependent on the physical brain?

    Because ghosts would be too scary, and, except for hell, God does not want to scare us.

    3. Did Australopithecus have a soul? What about homo habilis? Homo erectus? Neanderthals? Why or why not? (HT: Keith Parsons)

    Homo what??? Do you atheists have to push your radical gay rights agenda everywhere???

    4. How do souls interact with physical matter? Do you have any answer that is not tantamount to "I don't know?" (HT: Keith Parsons)

    I’ll pray for you.

    5. Why would God use biological evolution as a method for creation?

    He didn’t. 6000 years was not nearly enough time.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Of course they could give answers. But none of them are "decent."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Jeff Lowder said…

    5. Why would God use biological evolution as a method for creation? Do you have any answer that is independent of the scientific evidence for evolution?
    =========

    Comment:
    This is a good question for Swinburne, who clearly affirms that human beings evolved from sub-human animals, in accordance with Darwin's theory.

    Swinburne briefly attempts to answer this question on pages 188 and 189 of The Existence of God (2nd ed.), but he appears to confuse cosmological 'evolution' with biological evolution.

    Also, his answer is largely in terms of the beauty of cosmological evolution, but even if cosmological evolution would necessitate biological evolution (which it obviously does not) I don't see how the value of the beauty of cosmological evolution provides a sufficient MORAL justification for the millions of years of violence and disease and suffering required for the evolution of human beings.

    Besides, if cosmological evolution is beautiful, isn't biological evolution rather ugly? It is not clear to me that the beauty of cosmological evolution outweighs the ugliness of biological evolution, on a purely aesthetic level.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    By the way, this amounts to an objection to one of Swinburne's teleological arguments for God's existence, which includes the following premise:

    "…it is quite likely that, if there is a God, the laws and boundary conditions of the universe will be such as to make probable the evolution of human bodies." (EOG, p.189)

    This premise appears to be false to me, because if God exists, and granting Swinburne's assumption that God would be somewhat likely to create human-like creatures (if God existed), there is no need for God to create a universe with initial conditions and physical laws that would be likely to produce human-like creatures via evolution, for God could simply create from nothing as many human-like creatures as he wanted to in an instant. And since such a method of bringing about humans would not entail millions of years of violence, death, disease, and suffering of non-human animals, God would have a compelling reason to opt for instantaneous creation as opposed to a billion years of biological evolution.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    Pretty good questions, Jeffery.

    I'll add a couple for more sophisticated Christians (and, for that matter, Muslims, etc., with the necessary adaptations) who claim that the OT is inspired but not to be interpreted literally.

    a) Why would Yahweh deliberately give us so many pieces of evidence against his own existence, by making so many blatantly false testable claims about his own story?

    Many Christians say that biblical stories like the Flood, the Garden of Eden, the exodus from Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea are not meant to be taken literally.

    However, what if scientists (geologists, archeologists, historians, etc.) had found the following?

    1) Plenty of Egyptian documents that claim that the Hebrews were escaping and they were helped by an extraordinary event, in which the Red Sea was parted, allowing them to escape, and then drowning the pursuing troops. No Egyptian documents contradicting the story.

    2) Geological evidence that is best explained by, well, the parting of the Red Sea at that time.

    3) Geological and biological evidence overwhelmingly supporting Flood geology.

    4) No evidence for the evolution of humans or any other multicellular organisms.

    5) Conclusive evidence from different sources establishing that no animal lived more than 10000 years ago.

    6) Evidence for a spread of animals from the alleged location of the Garden of Eden.

    And so on.
    Surely, all those pieces of evidence would make the existence of Yahweh more probable than before adding that evidence.
    In other words, all of that would be evidence for the existence of Yahweh – not conclusive, but definitely evidence. In fact, if all of the above had been found, chances are we wouldn't have so many Christians telling us that those were all allegories, etc., but rather insisting on how good the evidence for the existence of Yahweh is.

    But we did not find any of the above. In fact, what we found is conclusive evidence that none of that (and many other biblical stories) happened.

    Hence, that's evidence against the existence of Yahweh, and make his existence less probable than otherwise it would be (I'm assuming the prior of Yahweh's existence isn't zero already, but if it's zero, that's surely no better for the Christian).

    So, if Yahweh inspired those stories (and many other false stories in the OT), then he effectively gave us many pieces of evidence against his own existence. Why would he do that?


    b) Why did Yahweh not correct the huge errors, given that those stories were indeed traditionally interpreted literally?
    c) Why is it that nearly everyone understood the stories literally until we happened to find conclusive evidence that they were false?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    3. Did Australopithecus have a soul? What about homo habilis? Homo erectus? Neanderthals? Why or why not? (HT: Keith Parsons)

    Pretty good questions; one could add hybrids (e.g., hybrids between Neanderthals and modern humans, etc.)

    There are Christians who claim that all animals have souls, though they're not moral beings and/or not 'Imago Dei', but similar questions can be asked, like:

    3.1) Did the first 'Imago Dei' hominid learn how to behave, speak, etc., from parents who weren't 'Imago Dei', who didn't go to Hell or Heaven, etc.?
    3.2) How was the behavior of those children different from that of their parents? Were they morally better? Were the parents not moral agents at all?
    3.3) Were those children genetically engineered by Yahweh, to have different brains from those of their parents?
    3.4) Or did they have the same kind of brain, but different behavior?
    3.5) Did Yahweh put children who were moral agents among amoral parents, siblings, etc., and – on top of that – give them a flawed moral sense?

    And so on.
    Ideas such as a 'first moral agent', 'first Imago Dei hominid', 'first ensouled hominid', etc., can be used for a zillion questions of the sort.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Here are three more questions inspired by this post:

    21. Why is so much of our universe intelligible without any appeal to supernatural agency?

    22. Why isn't our universe teeming with life, including life much more impressive than human life?

    23. Why isn't the universe saturated with auditory, tactile, or other sensory beauty?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Jeff Lowder said…
    Why would God desire to create embodied moral agents, as opposed to disembodied minds (such as souls, spirits, or ghosts)?
    ================
    Swinburne addresses this question in Chapter 6 of The Existence of God (2nd ed.). It is a critical issue in his case for God, which rests largely on one key assumption:

    It is somewhat likely (probablility aprox. equal to .5) that God would choose to bring about embodied humanly free agents.

    There is also additional related discussion in Chapters 10 (The Argument from Providence) and 11 (The Problem of Evil), which are probably the most interesting and most central parts of Swinburne's case for God.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    It's been many years since I've read Swinburne's books, but so far I haven't found an answer to my question. (This is no criticism of you, of course.) To say that it is "somewhat likely" that God would choose to bring about embodied humanly free agents is not to provide a reason why embodied humanly free agents is more probable on theism than on naturalism; it simply states the conclusion of an argument that needs to be provided (and has not yet been provided).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    The basic reason why it is somewhat likely that God would bring about embodied humanly free agents is the value of having creatures with significant freedom to choose to do good or evil.

    Embodiment allows for significant interactions with the world, animals, and other humanly free agents (experiencing, learning about the world, gaining power and skills, communication with other beings via language, the ability to help or to harm animals and other people, etc.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    @Bradley

    I do not find the rationale convincing at all. Quire the opposite, for the following reasons among others.

    Swinburne claims that what he calls 'significant free choice' is good, and from that he goes on to say that it's something God would want to do.

    The issues here are what Swinburne means by "significant free choice", and whether it would be morally good for an omnipotent, omniscient creator to bring about such beings.

    Swinburne argues that what he calls "humanly free agents" do have that, but – surprisingly – God, angels and some other beings do not. Swinburne seems to be saying that an entity that has a fixed morally good character does not have significant free will.

    However, if someone with a fixed morally good character does not have what Swinburne calls "significant free will", because they do not and would not act immorally, then it seems to me that creating beings with that feature – which shouldn't be called "significant free will", but rather something like "limited depravity" – would be a morally bad thing, all other things equal, and for an omnipotent being who could choose to make morally perfect beings.

    Swinburne goes on to say that significant free choices are those that can make a difference between good and evil, but oddly claims that humans have such choices because of non-rational influences and temptations to do what's not good.

    But if that's a "significant free choice", then God does not have it.

    What Swinburne's claim amounts to is a claim that even when one could just create morally perfect beings, it's morally good to create beings with limited moral knowledge and temptations to act immorally, in order to achieve the good of…having entities with limited moral knowledge and a temptation to act immorally!

    Calling those limitations and temptations "significant free choice" might make it sound good, but once the obscurity is removed, it should be clear – I hope – that the claim ought to be rejected.

    It entails that, in a world of moral perfection, it's morally good to introduce moral imperfection, even if one could choose not to do so, and indeed to introduce more morally perfect beings instead, if one so chose.

    Yes, granted, humans also do good, and I wouldn't say that making humans or similar creatures would always be morally bad if the creator were limited – but we're talking about an omnipotent one, who could create beings who do not have any inclination to do evil, and whose moral beliefs are always true.

    On top of that, in order for the choices to be "significant", it seems – according to Swinburne's idea – that it's also a good thing to give these morally imperfect beings a certain even if limited amount of power to do evil, and to inflict suffering on the innocent.

    How can it be a good thing not only to introduce evil temptations into the world, but even to allow people who act on them to make good people, or non-moral agents, suffer?

    What would be the greater good? That someone resisted the temptation?

    How would bringing about a world full of beings of imperfect moral knowledge and tempted to do evil – who often do good and sometimes do a lot of evil – be morally acceptable, if one can instead bring about a world of morally perfect beings who would never do any evil?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    By the way, Swinburne defends this claim by saying that it's a good thing that our children make their own choices in good or ill, and that their choices influence whether they're good or bad.
    Parents usually do not want their children to become bad due to bad choices, but it's true that humans usually want their children to learn and become good people in the way limited beings like humans do learn, but human instinctive desire to have normal offspring does not affect the previous considerations.

    Moreover, we can consider the following scenario: let's suppose God offered a human a choice: they can either have morally flawed children, tempted to do evil, or morally perfect ones. What's the correct choice?
    Let's take a look at it from another angle: if we found an entity – say, an angel – without any propensity whatsoever to do evil, would we say that she's somehow flawed, and lacks something morally good humans have? Would we say that of God?

    And if not, then how is it 'a good thing' to have what Swinburne calls "significant freedom"?

    By the way, the question is not even whether it's a good thing to have it, unless by that is meant whether it's morally good to create such beings when one could, say, create morally perfect ones instead.

    But in any case, it seems to me that Swinburne's rationale fails, for the reasons I mentioned.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Angra — Interesting!

    I just very quickly re-read the relevant section of Swinburne's The Existence of God (2nd ed.). I still don't understand his rationale: I don't understand why the benefits of freedom that are possible with embodied moral agents are not equally possible with disembodied moral agents.

    As I said, though, I read his work very quickly, so it's quite possible I may have missed it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    Jeffery,

    Thanks, and I see no reason to think you missed anything of importance. Essentially, Swinburne claims to rely on his moral intuitions for making those assessments; I disagree with his assessments, of course.

    But that aside, I think there is also some other problem: he talks about whether the existence of such-and-such being is 'a good thing', or that having what he calls 'significant free will' is a good thing, etc.

    The right question is whether it's morally acceptable for an omnipotent, omniscient being to create such-and-such being. If that's all he means by saying that something is 'a good thing', that's okay, but if not, that's something of a problem – and he seems to mean something else.

    For instance, he claims that animate substances are of a better type that inanimate ones.
    But what does he mean?
    If he means that it's always morally better to create animate substances that inanimate ones, that's surely false. For instance, it's morally better for an omnipotent being to create a rock than a being that always suffers horrible pain it cannot stop, no matter what she does.
    But then, what does Swinburne mean?
    Moreover, a lion is not of some "morally better" anything than a rock. There is no moral dimension to compare them, as far as I can tell.
    So, he's quite obscure.
    In any case, what is relevant to the matters at hand is what would be morally good or even morally acceptable for an omnipotent being to do, not some obscure statements about 'better type' of stuff.

    Perhaps, Swinburne's mistaken metaethics may be leading him to confusion.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Angra Mainyu -

    Thank you for your comments on Swinburne's assumptions about the likelihood that God would bring about embodied humanly free agents.

    I will respond in the comments associated with my most recent post on Swinburne:

    http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/2012/06/key-assumption-of-taso.html

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Just a quick to note to document that I made some various, minor edits to the list, by clarifying or expanding questions 6, 7, 13, and 14.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Further expanded question 11 and added new question 24.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Updated questions 7 and 11.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03011662452727590426 petew

    "god's plan or free will"

    Which is it?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06137890891223067672 Morrison

    If all the questions were answered to your satisfaction, would you become a theist?

    Of course not.

    Because as long as you hold to he indemonstrable belief that all existence, life, mind, and even reason itself can be explained as a product of mindless forces, then there is NO PROOF for the existence of God that you would accept.

    I can demonstrate this…give me an example of some proof for the existence of God (at least in principle) and I will show you that by asserting the previously mentioned indemonstrable beliefs about our origin and development, that you can evade it. (Irrationally evade it since your belief is indemonstrable.)

    And if there is NO PROOF…at least in principle…that you would even accept then your atheism is UNFALSIFIABLE.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03469718358131331499 Robert Bumbalough

    @Morrison Hello. I see that you buy into presuppositionalism. That's fortunate. Please accept my invitation to interact with Dawson Bethrick and his readers at the Incinerating Presuppositionalism blog. I and the others who read Dawson's writings would appreciate an opportunity to see your defense of the TAG argument or of those who have popularized it. Thank you for considering my invitation.

    I would like to make a point about your statements.

    That which is self-evident needs no proof. The axioms of existence, identity, consciousness are the basis of all proof. To deny the axioms, one must assume existence exists and is identity and that consciousness is awareness of existence. That is sufficient to validate the primacy of existence principle and show primacy of consciousness a false metaphysics.

    Your presupposition of metaphysical primacy of non-existence, betrayed by your statement …indemonstrable belief that all existence, life, mind, and even reason itself can be explained as a product of mindless forces…, is a fallacy. This is so because non-existence does not exist and never has. Only existence exists. Non-existence is not a primary concept and is derived by abstraction from cessation of existence. Making an implicit claim that existence, life, mind, and even reason itself need be explained is to argue from a position resting upon reification of nothingness.

    Once again thank you for reading, and I hope you elect to visit Dawson's blog and interact with his arguments and his regular readers.

    Best wishes and regards to you and yours.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06137890891223067672 Morrison

    Hi Robert, thanks for responding.

    But until you provide me an example as I requested in my post, I will not be pursuing your links or taking up your other suggestions.

    Your assertions about "non existence" of course have not been demonstrated, but if you want to provide an example as I requested I would be glad to visit the blog.

    Of course, if you can not provide an example and simply wish to concede that your postion is Unfalsifiable, thats fine too.

    All the best.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16139666223082953913 Steven Bently

    Here's a couple of simple questions you might add!

    A. If god can create perfect humans like Jesus at will whenever he got ready, why didn't he create them in the first place?

    B. Why is Christianity still called a belief and is not labeled a fact?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04029133398946303654 David B Marshall

    Jeff: Hello! I'm author of one of the first Gnu rebuttals, The Truth Behind the New Atheism, and a bunch of other stuff.

    Here are my (preliminary, I don't claim to be expert on ALL these topics, nor to have time to go into much detail right now) responses to your 25 questions:

    http://christthetao.blogspot.com/2012/06/answers-for-jeffrey-lowder.html

    Or search "Answers for Jeffery Lowder."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Hi David — Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. I skimmed your response but haven't read it in detail yet. I do think you missed the point of some of the questions, which is very understandable since some of the questions were not as clear as they could be.

    Also, FYI, most of these questions are intended to simply introduce my evidential case for naturalism, which is still very much a work in progress. For each question, the 'meta-question' (if you will) is this: "Does naturalism or theism enjoy the greatest overall balance of prior probability and explanatory power (with respect to the item of evidence at hand)?" For details, see "Basic Structure of My Evidential Arguments." That page lays out the schema for all of my evidential arguments.

    Finally, FYI, I apologize in advance for the inconvenience, but I just re-ordered the questions into a more logical sequence. You may want to update your post to reflect the new order. (I also tweaked the wording of a few questions, so you may want to validate that you are still quoting the latest version.)

    Regards,

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

    Several of Jeffery’s questions have the form “On theism why X?”, where X is some fact that is easily explained on naturalism, or of the form “On theism why not Y?” where Y would offer an obvious argument against naturalism. In my mind the best way to find whether theism or naturalism are more probably true is to test them against each other, so I think this kind of questioning is especially productive. So let me then try to answer this line of questioning first – in short, if theism is true then why is naturalism viable?

    Assume for a moment first that God has good reason to create a world which is religiously ambiguous, and secondly that a good way to produce such a world is one where metaphysical naturalism is viable. (By naturalism I understand the idea that reality is ultimately of a mechanical nature – whether deterministic or not.) The theistic defense of these two assumptions provides I think a basic answer for questions #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #12, #13, #14, #15, #16, #17, #18, #19, #20, #21, #22, #23, #24.

    Here then is my defense of the two abovementioned assumptions:

    Define theism as the most positive metaphysics possible. Theism then entails that the metaphysically ultimate nature of reality is the most valuable or greatest one, and also that we have some basically reliable cognitive faculty for recognizing value or greatness. What can we then say about that ultimate reality? I think we can all agree that this ultimate reality will be no less than personal and perfect in all respects we can imagine, and thus perfect in goodness, in knowledge, in power, the ground of all value such as beauty, love, truth – and so on. Let’s call that perfect personal being who grounds all that is valuable “God”.

    The next natural question is about what God would want to do? I think one answer is that God would want to create and commune with other perfect personal beings in some optimal arrangement. Since that answer makes immediate sense and since we can’t imagine any better answer, it is reasonable to assume that is true.

    The third natural question is about the nature of these created persons. And here comes the decisive part. One possibility would be for God to instantly create ready-made perfect persons – kind like instant coffee. Another possibility though would be for God to create imperfect persons in such a condition that they could and would transform themselves into perfect persons. I think it is obvious (and will not therefore elaborate further) that the second kind of perfection is the greatest one, and thus the one that God would choose to instantiate. The basic insight here is that personal value is a function not only of one’s state but also of how one got that state.

    The final question is about how the personal condition of such created persons should be in order for them to be able to perfect themselves. The initial personal state must be of a sufficiently low level of goodness, knowledge and power – but within a world in which created persons can increase them. Hence an imperfect world, filled with evils to be overcome [“evils” in the more general sense of resistance to or limitations in goodness, knowledge, power and so on]. And how should God be manifested in that world? Here too there are two basic possibilities. Either a creation in which God and the divine purpose for creation are obviously manifest, or else a creation in which God and the purpose of the world are hidden in the sense of not being obvious. Clearly the worth of overcoming evil and choosing good in a world in which the presence of God and the perfect destiny of all persons were obvious would have much less value. Thus God would want to create the later kind of religiously ambiguous world, i.e. a world in which created persons are given the freedom to choose goodness for its own sake. (Some tremors of Kantian ethics here.)

    [continues bellow]

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

    [continues from above]

    So far then I have defended the first assumption, namely that on theism we should expect creation to be religiously ambiguous. Let me now tackle the second assumption, namely that in such a world naturalism should be a viable worldview.

    Being God, what kind of world do you create that is religiously ambiguous, namely that hides the true nature of reality (without on the other hand actually leading people into error)? Observe that it not sufficient that God be invisible as it were; one would also have to hide such properties of reality that would necessarily lead one to recognize the presence of God and the purpose of creation. Since theism entails that creation is deeply purposeful and creation-of-value oriented, a way to hide this would to create a world in which the interpretation that it is purposeless and value-neutral is viable. Viability entails intrinsic possibility, and thus unfalsifiability. In other words no experience (or datum) should be such that it conclusively falsifies the non-religious interpretation. A mechanical reality is a fundamentally purposeless and not value-oriented reality. If that mechanical reality can also account for all our experiences then it has the required property of being unfalsifiable. Now for all we know there may be other solutions, but we do see that a condition in which the world can be interpreted as being a mechanism which accounts for all our experiences fulfills one basic requirement for religious ambiguity.

    Ambiguity is a symmetrical property, and thus in our case it also requires the viability of the religious interpretation – but since it’s not necessary for our discussion I won’t go into this issue. I only wish to point out that by starting with the premise that reality is maximally valuable and using our own sense of value we can derive a personal condition the main features of which fit the condition we actually find ourselves in. Namely one where both naturalism and theism are epistemically viable. In such a world some features will be readily explainable on naturalism, and can be explained on theism only after one recognizes that there is good theistic reason for the viability of the naturalistic interpretation in the first place.

    I would to like to finish by pointing out that the above account represents John Hick’s so-called soul-making theodicy, including its premise about the epistemic distance of God etc. The difference is only that whereas Hick builds that theodicy from the bottom up as it where, i.e. by showing that it explains the evils present in our current condition, the above account is top down, i.e. starts with the nature of God and derives our condition.

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