September 15, 2019

Introductory spiel: One of my more recent books, Not Seeing God: Atheism in the 21st Century (UK), has a plethora of gems in it for the reader and a smorgasbord of variety. It was a labour of love and was particularly rewarding due to the fact that so many great writers had been involved in the production of the book. There were some 24 writers from the ranks of Patheos Nonreligious and they all did their bit to make the project a really good looking, good feeling, and intellectually stimulating affair.

There is a great variety of writing and subject matter on offer, in the book, with the first section (Part One: DECONSTRUCTING GOD) dealing with philosophical, moral and theological issues with the God concept. The second section (Part Two: REFLECTING ON GODLESSNESS IN MODERN SOCIETY), deals with atheism within various contexts in modern society, from cinema to the military, politics to education. The final piece of the puzzle (Part Three: LOOKING TOWARD A FUTURE IN A GODLESS WORLD) asks the reader where we go from here, and seeks to give a few answers.

I am going to split up my opening chapter to the book over a number of posts here. All of that which I will excerpt has been the subject of various posts over time. After all, you are my sounding board. Here goes. This is the eight or ninth piece in the series. Who knows… My final one.

God’s omniscience means he has no free will

Of course, simply knowing everything is not so simple. If God knew his own actions in advance, and was constrained by his own omni-characteristics, then he would not have free will and could not do otherwise than he had already predicted. If God had perfect foreknowledge, and knew in advance exactly what he was going to do, he could never change his mind, or deviate, otherwise he would invalidate his perfect foreknowledge.

Secondly, if he is perfectly loving, then everything that he did would have to be in terms of that kind of perfection. His course of action would always have to be the most loving option. He would have no freedom to do otherwise. He would have no freedom or ability to act against his own nature, a nature that he had no role in creating, it was just necessarily so.

If free will is all that and a bag of chips, as many theists claim, then the fact that God does not have it is a bit of a problem.

All he knows is that he doesn’t know everything…

In many instances, you cannot know that you don’t know something. If there is a situation where you cannot know something, then, if it is claimed that you are omniscient, this would invalidate that claim.

For example, there could conceivably be something that God does not know. Conceivably, perhaps another dimension run by another God exists that does not coincide at all with this dimension. If one eternal God can exist, why not another in an entirely different dimension and unbeknownst to the first God? Now, it is unimportant as to whether this is actually the case or not. What is important is that God could not know that he did not know this by the very nature of not knowing it! I think.

Where does this leave God? Well, God is in a situation whereby he cannot know that he knows everything. He might think he knows everything. Epistemologically speaking, though, he cannot know it. Of course, this whole point depends on the definition of “know” and “knowledge.” But if we take a Cartesian sense of indubitably to be the case, then I think we can make something of a problem for God.

Remaining with Descartes and his Evil Daemon thought experiment (updated to The Matrix for modern times), there’s always a chance that God is an experiment in an elaborate lab, programmed to think he is omnipotent and omniscient (yes, God could be plugged into the Matrix and he’d never know it!). There’s a chance he is one of a trillion gods in a trillion different universes, that he has himself been created by another, more powerful god, but that the other god made it so God god was not aware of this.

It only takes one thing you cannot know to invalidate omniscience. God cannot know that he knows everything. It might not be the case, of course, that there is a whole procession of gods leading back from God, but God cannot know that this is indubitably not the case.

Phew, being God isn’t as easy as it’s cracked up to be.

And the list goes on

And so it goes for the classical notion of God. Problems beget problems, and they beget further problems. I look at many of these and more in a couple of my previous books: The Little Book of Unholy Questions and The Problem with “God”: Skeptical Theism under the Spotlight.

I think what we can safely say is that this version of God is wholly unlikely, and problematic. Impossible, even, given the above. Something has to go. One of the omnis has to be dropped. Or all of them.

Or God.


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September 8, 2019

Introductory spiel: One of my more recent books, Not Seeing God: Atheism in the 21st Century (UK), has a plethora of gems in it for the reader and a smorgasbord of variety. It was a labour of love and was particularly rewarding due to the fact that so many great writers had been involved in the production of the book. There were some 24 writers from the ranks of Patheos Nonreligious and they all did their bit to make the project a really good looking, good feeling, and intellectually stimulating affair.

There is a great variety of writing and subject matter on offer, in the book, with the first section (Part One: DECONSTRUCTING GOD) dealing with philosophical, moral and theological issues with the God concept. The second section (Part Two: REFLECTING ON GODLESSNESS IN MODERN SOCIETY), deals with atheism within various contexts in modern society, from cinema to the military, politics to education. The final piece of the puzzle (Part Three: LOOKING TOWARD A FUTURE IN A GODLESS WORLD) asks the reader where we go from here, and seeks to give a few answers.

I am going to split up my opening chapter to the book over a number of posts here. All of that which I will excerpt has been the subject of various posts over time. After all, you are my sounding board. Here goes. This is the seventh piece in the series.

Heaven and Hell

If the endgame is indeed heaven, then why not just create heaven and put our ethereal beings within? Let’s return to his divine foreknowledge, if God knew in advance whom the elect were, whom the people who would freely come to love him would be, then why not just create them? If he knew exactly whom on earth would freely come to love him, why bother creating all those majority of others? All those others who are condemned to an eternity in hell? That seems unnecessarily harsh: punishing people infinitely for a finite failure that God knew would happen anyway.

No, just create heaven. Forget earth, the universe, and everything else; just create paradise and fill it with the people you were always going to fill it with.

Job done.

Suffering eradicated. (This creating job is a cinch.)

Satan as God’s management executive

God is supposed to be omnipotent. You know, all-powerful, almighty. The great-making characteristics of such a god are the paragon of abilities. He could achieve anything at the metaphorical click of his fingers.

So what the hell is Satan still doing hanging around? Well, of course, he doesn’t exist either. But supposing you believe that both God and Satan are real entities. Well, then, you’d be making no sense at all. God could make Satan disappear, non-existent, just like that. Any ontological argument for God, or claim that he is perfect, such as under Perfect Being Theology, argues for God’s supreme omni-abilities. To be the greatest being in conception, there can be no rival being as God could dispense with them on a whim. Satan cannot be God’s equal.

This means that if the Devil exists, he does so at the behest of God. Either God actively wants him to exist, or his disappearance would cause more grief than good, like some embodiment of the Problem of Evil and consequentialism, as previously mentioned.

Thus it appears that Satan, if he exists, is doing a job for God; providing a service, if you will. God, then, must accept corporate responsibility for him. In other words, anything that is laid at the feet of Satan, in terms of blame and moral responsibility, should actually be laid at the invisible feet of God. God allows (either by design, direct causation or act of omission) everything that Satan does.

 


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August 31, 2019

Introductory spiel: One of my more recent books, Not Seeing God: Atheism in the 21st Century (UK), has a plethora of gems in it for the reader and a smorgasbord of variety. It was a labour of love and was particularly rewarding due to the fact that so many great writers had been involved in the production of the book. There were some 24 writers from the ranks of Patheos Nonreligious and they all did their bit to make the project a really good looking, good feeling, and intellectually stimulating affair.

There is a great variety of writing and subject matter on offer, in the book, with the first section (Part One: DECONSTRUCTING GOD) dealing with philosophical, moral and theological issues with the God concept. The second section (Part Two: REFLECTING ON GODLESSNESS IN MODERN SOCIETY), deals with atheism within various contexts in modern society, from cinema to the military, politics to education. The final piece of the puzzle (Part Three: LOOKING TOWARD A FUTURE IN A GODLESS WORLD) asks the reader where we go from here, and seeks to give a few answers.

I am going to split up my opening chapter to the book over a number of posts here. All of that which I will excerpt has been the subject of various posts over time. After all, you are my sounding board. Here goes. This is the seventh piece in the series.

Why don’t we photosynthesize?

Let’s get back to God’s creating us. It turns out that mere existence is predicated upon a whole raft of pain and suffering. Carnivorousness is a system whereby, in order to just exist, many organisms require the pain and death of other organisms. This happens, literally, on an industrial scale, from farming to the Serengeti. I once watched an online video of a water buffalo being eaten alive by a pride of lions just so I could understand this point.

It was terrible.

But that’s life, or death as may be. And it has happened for a very long time. All that pain and suffering―every unit―has been built into the design of so many organisms.

It doesn’t have to be that way. God could have it any other way, surely, with his omni-skills? Carnivorousness can’t be necessary, can it? We could, for example, all photosynthesize. All organisms could derive all of the energy from the sun, thus not necessitating the death of other animals. God could either cook the physical constant to allow for this, or simply allow for perpetual miracles to take place in every organism.

You can take this a step or two further. We don’t actually need energy. Conceptually, God could have created organisms, or a whole system, that didn’t revolve around our understanding of energy.

No, further still, God did not need to create a physical world at all. God could just have created heaven, and populated heaven directly.

[Here is a video I did on this topic when I was young and without grey hair…

(The Little Book of Unholy Questions paperback is presently on offer on Amazon, but that will not last if ordered!)

And this is from a previous piece on this topic:

The Problem of Evil is usually stated as something like this:

  1. If an all-powerful and perfectly good god exists, then evil does not.
  2. There is evil in the world.
  3. Therefore, an all-powerful and perfectly good god does not exist.

Here is a better version:

  1. There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
  2. An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
  3. (Therefore) There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being.

It is better because it talks about evil as being gratuitous or not. The evil in the world can still logically exist, as long as it is not gratuitous (i.e. serves a purpose). With regards to the question about photosynthesis, the idea is that eating meat and causing animal pain and death must be necessary for some other, greater good.

The Christian is in the position of being able to say, as they always do, that this is logically possible. This, however, is not good enough. It falls into the fallacy of what Richard Carrier calls possibiliter ergo probabiliter. In other words, something is possible, and so therefore it becomes probable. This is not, for me at any rate, an epistemologically good method. If I went through my life believing things because they were possible and not probable, I would get into some serious trouble.

The Christian would no doubt claim that the rest of the evidence for God means that the evidence for it not being gratuitous is good and makes the conclusion that there is a greater good probable. Again, this is not good enough for me. And if this is the case, then God could surely communicate that there is a greater good, not least what that greater good is. Many Christians argue that we cannot know the mind of God and we might not understand what the greater good might be. I think this is vastly underrating human understanding and is effectively laughable.

In sum, the fact that a vast number of animals eat other animals in order to survive, meaning that there is an incredible amount  of pain and suffering on earth just so that animals can merely survive, raises some really difficult questions for the theist, and ones which are only ever answered with get-out-of-jail free cards employing the omniscience escape clause. And I just don’t think that’s good enough.

I asked this question to William Lane Craig at the Stephen Law debate in London after their debate a few years ago. He had no answer, though declared it was a great question. There you go.]

 


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August 12, 2019

Introductory spiel: One of my more recent books, Not Seeing God: Atheism in the 21st Century (UK), has a plethora of gems in it for the reader and a smorgasbord of variety. It was a labour of love and was particularly rewarding due to the fact that so many great writers had been involved in the production of the book. There were some 24 writers from the ranks of Patheos Nonreligious and they all did their bit to make the project a really good looking, good feeling, and intellectually stimulating affair.

There is a great variety of writing and subject matter on offer, in the book, with the first section (Part One: DECONSTRUCTING GOD) dealing with philosophical, moral and theological issues with the God concept. The second section (Part Two: REFLECTING ON GODLESSNESS IN MODERN SOCIETY), deals with atheism within various contexts in modern society, from cinema to the military, politics to education. The final piece of the puzzle (Part Three: LOOKING TOWARD A FUTURE IN A GODLESS WORLD) asks the reader where we go from here, and seeks to give a few answers.

I am going to split up my opening chapter to the book over a number of posts here. All of that which I will excerpt has been the subject of various posts over time. After all, you are my sounding board. Here goes. This is the sixth piece in the series.

Heaven ain’t justification

Please don’t use heaven to justify the last point, or to justify how it is okay that a six-month-old baby dies of cancer. “It’s alright,” you or your theistic friend might say, “they will live for an eternity in heaven!”

This is compensation, and compensation is not moral justification, and certainly so if you are a religious believer. Theists invariably hate a moral value system called consequentialism (William Lane Craig called it a “terrible ethic”) because it has no need for God. You derive your moral value from the consequences pertaining to a given action. If I walked up to you and punched you clean in the face and broke your jaw for no reason, then that would not be nice. It is not morally good on almost anyone’s moral value system. But let’s particularly think about theists who believe morality is divinely commanded, usually, in some manner: this certainly wouldn’t be good. If I am made to pay you $10,000, or even if I give it to you voluntarily, it does not make the punch suddenly morally good. You may even enjoy getting that money and think it was worth it, but it is compensation; it is not moral justification. Don’t let theists fool you with this sleight of hand.

God is a consequentialist anyway

It doesn’t get any easier for God, though. The Problem of Evil is the argument that asks why there is so much suffering in the world given his omni-characteristics. He should surely know what to do about all the suffering, would be able to do it, and would be caring enough to want to do it. But, alas, there is still so much suffering. Therefore, the theist says, it is not gratuitous. It does not exist for no reason; we can reason why it is there. We have free will; it is a natural by-product. We have souls; suffering helps to build them into greater entities. Et cetera, et cetera. However, these theodicies, as they are called, are all built upon notions of consequentialism. Suffering happens so that we can obtain a greater good, whether it be free will, better souls, or whatnot.

Take Noah’s flood, or the death of Jesus. These things happened to obtain greater goods. All of humanity and virtually every ecosystem and animal died. Why? For a greater good, of course! Not sure it worked, but there you go.

The whole moral system involved in proposing theodicies as defenses against the Problem of Evil is consequentialist in nature. God, in allowing these seeming evils, because they can’t be gratuitous, must be a consequentialist.

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July 26, 2019

 Introductory spiel: One of my more recent books, Not Seeing God: Atheism in the 21st Century (UK), has a plethora of gems in it for the reader and a smorgasbord of variety. It was a labour of love and was particularly rewarding due to the fact that so many great writers had been involved in the production of the book. There were some 24 writers from the ranks of Patheos Nonreligious and they all did their bit to make the project a really good looking, good feeling, and intellectually stimulating affair.

There is a great variety of writing and subject matter on offer, in the book, with the first section (Part One: DECONSTRUCTING GOD) dealing with philosophical, moral and theological issues with the God concept. The second section (Part Two: REFLECTING ON GODLESSNESS IN MODERN SOCIETY), deals with atheism within various contexts in modern society, from cinema to the military, politics to education. The final piece of the puzzle (Part Three: LOOKING TOWARD A FUTURE IN A GODLESS WORLD) asks the reader where we go from here, and seeks to give a few answers.

I am going to split up my opening chapter to the book over a number of posts here. All of that which I will excerpt has been the subject of various posts over time. After all, you are my sounding board. Here goes. This is the fifth piece in the series.

God’s not fair

We have, like it or not, this collection of human beings that God has designed and created. Or if you are a theistic evolutionist, God created the system that created the humans. Either way, with his omniscience, he knew that which would come to pass.

God created a whole range of people. Men, women and others (if you don’t adhere to a gender binary) is one range. The neurotypical and people on the autistic spectrum might be another range.

I assume that, since heaven and hell appear to be the consequence of this here existence, the main point for earthly humans on earth is to enter into a loving relationship, freely, with God. Yes, you can ask what happened to people who existed before the Bible, or in the Amazon who have never heard the Gospel, who don’t know the Bible. Theologians like William Lane Craig have argued that God has front-loaded all those souls whom he knew would freely reject him into those peoples. Dark. Fatalistic. Another answer might be that humans have morality written on their hearts and that we don’t need the Bible, nor such a relationship with the Christian/Muslim/InsertNameHere God, in order to succeed in the Test of Life and get into heaven. Well, that’s a whole problem for theists, meaning we are not needing God for morality, not needing the Bible for guidance, and it is a good argument for secular humanism!

Back to the point. God has created ranges of people, and science has shown that these different types of people have different probabilities in believing in God. Women, for whatever reason (it doesn’t matter whether it is genetic, biological or environmental), are more likely to believe in God than men. Scientists less likely than others. And, interestingly, certain autistics far less likely than the neurotypical to believe in a personal deity.

One hypothesis about this last group, based on work by Norenzayan, Gervais and Trzesniewski[1], is that certain autistic people are less able to empathize, to see life from someone else’s point of view. They are less able to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. Where religious believers are consistently wondering how God, as a personal agent, is viewing their life, their moral actions, these autistic people are unable to do so. That kind of intersubjectivity is much more difficult for them. And so they end up not believing in God, being almost unable to believe in a personal entity out there who is watching their every move.

What this means is that God is unfair. He’s stacking the cards, loading the dice, such that certain subgroups of people are more or less likely to freely come to love him. If that is at least part of the endgame, then God is not fair, and not omnibenevolent

July 17, 2019

Introductory spiel: One of my more recent books, Not Seeing God: Atheism in the 21st Century (UK), has a plethora of gems in it for the reader and a smorgasbord of variety. It was a labour of love and was particularly rewarding due to the fact that so many great writers had been involved in the production of the book. There were some 24 writers from the ranks of Patheos Nonreligious and they all did their bit to make the project a really good looking, good feeling, and intellectually stimulating affair.

There is a great variety of writing and subject matter on offer, in the book, with the first section (Part One: DECONSTRUCTING GOD) dealing with philosophical, moral and theological issues with the God concept. The second section (Part Two: REFLECTING ON GODLESSNESS IN MODERN SOCIETY), deals with atheism within various contexts in modern society, from cinema to the military, politics to education. The final piece of the puzzle (Part Three: LOOKING TOWARD A FUTURE IN A GODLESS WORLD) asks the reader where we go from here, and seeks to give a few answers.

I am going to split up my opening chapter to the book over a number of posts here. All of that which I will excerpt has been the subject of various posts over time. After all, you are my sounding board. Here goes. This is the fourth piece, and a short one – the full-length version can be found here.

God loves abortion

Another creative shortcoming concerns fetuses. Most religious people appear to be fervent pro-lifers. That is to say, they are not fans of abortion. No one is really a fan of abortion in and of itself, but it is useful a procedure for any number of reasons, and the fetus is often merely a group of cells or something that has no personhood and feels no pain. God has designed and created human beings, in some manner, and appears to love abortion, even though his denizens don’t. Anywhere up to three-quarters of fertilized eggs are naturally, spontaneously, aborted. They either fail to implant or are rejected by the body, or undergo other such problems.

This amounts to perhaps billions of individual blastocysts or embryos over time. God doesn’t appear to lift a virtual finger to stop this. What’s good for the goose…

 

 


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July 11, 2019

Introductory spiel: One of my more recent books, Not Seeing God: Atheism in the 21st Century (UK), has a plethora of gems in it for the reader and a smorgasbord of variety. It was a labour of love and was particularly rewarding due to the fact that so many great writers had been involved in the production of the book. There were some 24 writers from the ranks of Patheos Nonreligious and they all did their bit to make the project a really good looking, good feeling, and intellectually stimulating affair.

There is a great variety of writing and subject matter on offer, in the book, with the first section (Part One: DECONSTRUCTING GOD) dealing with philosophical, moral and theological issues with the God concept. The second section (Part Two: REFLECTING ON GODLESSNESS IN MODERN SOCIETY), deals with atheism within various contexts in modern society, from cinema to the military, politics to education. The final piece of the puzzle (Part Three: LOOKING TOWARD A FUTURE IN A GODLESS WORLD) asks the reader where we go from here, and seeks to give a few answers.

I am going to split up my opening chapter to the book over a number of posts here. All of that which I will excerpt has been the subject of various posts over time. After all, you are my sounding board. Here goes. This is the third piece.

Adam and Eve

Let’s put this design fault into biblical context. God creates Adam and Eve in this supposedly perfect scenario. They have been chosen to represent humanity in a big test: the test of not eating a fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. In other words, before eating from a fruit that gives them the knowledge of what is right and wrong, they have to know that it is wrong to disobey God and eat some forbidden fruit.

Damn this logic game.

Okay, let’s let that issue slip and carry on with the story.

So, Adam and Eve represent humanity in this test. God presumably knows in advance the result of this test, but he picks Adam and Eve to do it anyway, and to knowingly fail. In other words, God is admitting a glaring design fault. If Adam and Eve are representative of humanity, then any given human taking that test would have failed, and we are all inherently faulty. This throws perfect design and creation down the pan.

If, however, Adam and Eve are not representative of humanity, then God has chosen non-representative people to take a test and fail, on account of which all other people, given the Fall, are punished. It’s bad enough to know we are being punished for the choice of Adam and Eve because we are all equally as shoddy as they are, but it’s quite another to think we are being punished for the wrongdoing of this brace when we could have passed the test ourselves!

Quite a two-horned dilemma.

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July 9, 2019

Introductory spiel: One of my more recent books, Not Seeing God: Atheism in the 21st Century (UK), has a plethora of gems in it for the reader and a smorgasbord of variety. It was a labour of love and was particularly rewarding due to the fact that so many great writers had been involved in the production of the book. There were some 24 writers from the ranks of Patheos Nonreligious and they all did their bit to make the project a really good looking, good feeling, and intellectually stimulating affair.

There is a great variety of writing and subject matter on offer, in the book, with the first section (Part One: DECONSTRUCTING GOD) dealing with philosophical, moral and theological issues with the God concept. The second section (Part Two: REFLECTING ON GODLESSNESS IN MODERN SOCIETY), deals with atheism within various contexts in modern society, from cinema to the military, politics to education. The final piece of the puzzle (Part Three: LOOKING TOWARD A FUTURE IN A GODLESS WORLD) asks the reader where we go from here, and seeks to give a few answers.

I am going to split up my opening chapter to the book over a number of posts here. All of that which I will excerpt has been the subject of various posts over time. After all, you are my sounding board. Here goes. This is the second piece.

He created imperfectly

Shelving the problem that he would have had no desire or need to create anything, existing, as he did, in perfection, let’s consider actual creation. Anything created must necessarily have been a degradation of his perfect state of affairs. Unless, of course, he created absolute perfection there and then. Let’s face it, although I’m pretty awesome, I’m not quite perfect, and it took me a few billion years of trial and error to get here, too.

A perfect painter is unlikely to produce a really shoddy painting and still maintain the moniker of a perfect painter. It’s all about the deeds.

A perfect creator, a perfect chooser, as God must be (if we listen to great Christian philosophers who thought up syllogisms like the Ontological Argument to supposedly prove this, and his existence), would surely choose to create perfectly?

We are here. Good old humans, on the good old world, with its good old tsunamis and malaria, in this good old universe, with its supposed heat death, and life-sucking black holes. This here universe is a perfect creation. Somehow, at some point. Is it now? Jury’s out. Could it be on a journey to perfection? Who knows…? I am just not sure that all the pain and suffering we see is necessary for the eventual perfection.

Okay, let’s analogize (analogy: the philosopher’s favorite toy). Imagine you are an extraordinarily good scientist in your lab. You have concocted a design for a new sentient creature. You know that this creature, if you were to create it, would, with one hundred percent certainty, go out and rape and pillage in the local town. These sentient beings, you know, would run amok, freely causing pain and suffering. They would also paint some lovely pictures, and be nice to people at times, too. Knowing all of this, you create anyway. And the creatures go out from your lab into the wider community and cause some mayhem, perfectly predicted. The police come knocking. They find you ultimately morally culpable for the crimes committed. You are deemed, rightly, to be some meddling, ne’er-do-well scientist.

If I was CEO (and chief designer) at a car company, and I designed a car that I knew would be faulty and would cause death when it malfunctioned, which it would, and decided to create that car anyway, releasing it to market, I would be morally and legally culpable for so doing.

These analogies show that God should not be let off the hook for the moral misdemeanors of these imperfect beings called humans. There is no way round this if God has that perfect foreknowledge, that omniscience, and was the ultimate creator of all there is and ever will be. He has chosen to create imperfect beings that he has designed, and whom he knows will cause untold havoc. And he is apparently perfect, and morally off the hook?

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July 8, 2019

Introductory spiel: One of my more recent books, Not Seeing God: Atheism in the 21st Century (UK), has a plethora of gems in it for the reader and a smorgasbord of variety. It was a labour of love and was particularly rewarding due to the fact that so many great writers had been involved in the production of the book. There were some 24 writers from the ranks of Patheos Nonreligious and they all did their bit to make the project a really good looking, good feeling, and intellectually stimulating affair.

There is a great variety of writing and subject matter on offer, in the book, with the first section (Part One: DECONSTRUCTING GOD) dealing with philosophical, moral and theological issues with the God concept. The second section (Part Two: REFLECTING ON GODLESSNESS IN MODERN SOCIETY), deals with atheism within various contexts in modern society, from cinema to the military, politics to education. The final piece of the puzzle (Part Three: LOOKING TOWARD A FUTURE IN A GODLESS WORLD) asks the reader where we go from here, and seeks to give a few answers.

Please click on the link above or the cover to grab yourself a copy (UK link here). Ebook formats are to follow before Christmas (all formats: Onus Books, 2017).

I am going to split up my opening chapter to the book over a number of posts here. All of that which I will excerpt has been the subject of various posts over time. After all, you are my sounding board. Here goes.

Not Seeing OmniGodTM through Philosophy and Logic

Jonathan MS Pearce, A Tippling Philosopher

I have long had an interest in the notion of God in classical theism and how his attributes intersect. Or don’t. I say “his”, but I mean “hers” or “its”. There’s another headache right there.

By “classical theism”, I mean the idea that God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent. God is OmniGodTM. I often give talks to various groups, one presentation of which is a set of arguments against the existence of God that I call “God on Trial”, where I present five arguments against OmniGod’s existence. One point that is sometimes raised is that this is a straw man conception of what God is. “My idea of God is very different to this version you are presenting; therefore you are wrong. I, too, admit that this idea of God is problematic!” Well, there are as many versions of God as there are believers, and theists of various stripes can always shift the goalposts. However, we have to start somewhere. I cannot present a case against God and take into account the several billion variations thereof. Instead, I pick the most prevalent understanding of God that has maintained through history, brought about by philosophical ruminations over time.

These ideas of omni- are popular and, some argue, necessary threads that weave their way through ideas of what God is. So I will settle for picking my philosophical fight against this understanding of this perfect God: all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving. If you want to propose another version of God, we can have that fight another time. Which will be sometime after you have wrangled free of your label of “heretic.” Good luck with that.

Let’s start properly conceptual, and narrow it down from there. Start big, I always say.

  

Why Create at all?

Imagine God, causally “before” creating anything, existing in total perfection, for that is what God must be. There is, or was, nothing greater than God in human (or any other) conception. Interestingly, there can have been no deliberation about creating. There was no time, after all. God’s decisions were instantaneous. Necessary, even. God “chose” to create this world. Why? What reason could God have? In order to intend to do something, there must be some kind of desire (if we forget, for a while, that was no time in this process! Oh, it’s all so problematic!). A desire signifies a lacking. If you want something, you lack what it is that that something gives you. If you have a lacking, then, it can be argued, you are imperfect. A perfect being will have no needs, no desires. If God has perfect foreknowledge, then God would know all future counterfactuals (if this happened, then that would happen). God would know the future. Heck, God could feel or imagine or experience the future, without even having to create it. Essentially, God could be sitting back in his virtual armchair really and actually imagining and sensing the universe without really and actually creating it.

Alas, I am here, really and actually experiencing stubbing my toe, and wondering whether that experience was real or not. So I exist, whatever I am.

But God apparently did create, so God wanted something out of this process, something he must not have had, rendering his perfection rather problematic.

 

January 29, 2020

I spent the previous piece on this topic, laying the groundwork for establishing that God is a moral consequentialist before pointing out that some theists create a defence of this accusation by claiming that God is not moral because God is under no moral obligation. What does this mean and does it hold up? Let’s take a look.

First of all, what does William Lane Craig say on the matter[1]:

Since God doesn’t issue commands to Himself, He has no moral duties to fulfil. He is certainly not subject to the same moral obligations and prohibitions that we are. For example, I have no right to take an innocent life. For me to do so would be murder. But God has no such prohibition. He can give and take life as He chooses. We all recognize this when we accuse some authority who presumes to take life as “playing God.” Human authorities arrogate to themselves rights which belong only to God. God is under no obligation whatsoever to extend my life for another second. If He wanted to strike me dead right now, that’s His prerogative.

Divine Command Theories

This sort of position seems to imply that God’s commands are not good in the context of him giving them, but in humans following them, because God is not “good”. Initially, this is problematic in a pragmatic sense, as Wesley Edwards states[2]:

As we’ve seen, when confronted with what would normally be considered crimes against humanity, the theist will respond in various ways, none of them satisfactory: “We are His creations, and He can do as He pleases,” or “God is good regardless of His actions, just in ways that are beyond us.” Stripped of our own ability to know an evil deed when we see it, we now have to first ask: “Who did it?” One is reduced to saying, “I don’t know if it was evil until you first tell me whether or not God did it. I’ll even do the deed myself, no matter how bloody or genocidal, if you first convince me that God ordered it.” Uncritical obedience to orders ultimately becomes the only criterion of moral behavior, even when the rule is infanticide, such as illustrated in Gen 22:2 where Abraham is told to slaughter his own son. Indeed, Abraham’s willingness to blindly follow orders – even with the tortured, frightened screams of his own child in his ears – is held up as the supreme example of moral “goodness” we should all follow.

If it is true, as some theists claim, that “God communicates to us our sense of judgment for determining right and wrong,” then shouldn’t we naturally sense moral beauty in these O.T. [Old Testament] atrocities, since they were sanctioned by God? Fortunately, few do. But even if our moral instinct is one of revulsion, we are told to remember that good is defined by God. Anything He does is good by definition, no matter what: healing sick children or having them ripped apart by wild animals. Curiously, many Christians have often complained at this point that “things were different in the Old Testament.” In other words, their “absolute” morals were different in the past. Such a view ironically turns their absolutism into a rather extreme form of moral relativism.

I think Wesley Edwards points out the flaws to Craig’s approach with clarity and force. As well as (Divine Command Theories (DCTs) being circular in nature, they suffer the issues of not being particularly good pragmatic guides of how to act morally since we are unable to fathom exactly what would be morally commanded by God and how to comparatively rate different actions morally. There is an epistemological issue with how we would know how and if God had communicated a command to us and so on.

The importance of exclusivity in Divine Command Theories here is that they imply that morality only comes from power, status and relation in giving particular commands. As you will see, this is fraught with problems.

Moral Obligation Exemption

Furthermore, Craig tries to drive a wedge between moral obligation and a moral ‘good’ such that God is exempted from obligations or moral duties/oughts. However, this does not exempt his actions from being morally valued. Craig would say that the value is necessarily good, since it comes from God’s nature but this is begging the question. Moreover, the moral value (which may well be good, and necessarily so) seems to still be derived, in so many cases (as I have exemplified previously and elsewhere) from the consequences of the actions. From every design facet to every death in the Bible, to every unit of pain and suffering experienced in the world, God must be valuing his own actions and omissions on the basis of their consequences. I can see no way around this conundrum.

I am particularly perturbed by this claim that “God doesn’t issue commands to Himself”. What does this really mean? I may live on a desert island with no other human being. I might decide, after some time, to become vegetarian, so as not to cause any pain or suffering to other sentient creatures. I’m doing this because I am trying to make my behaviour as morally good as possible, irrespective as to whether any other human being qua moral creature exists on Earth. The obligation I have is to my desire to be as moral as possible.

What Craig seems to be saying here is that God has no obligation to anyone else. But I don’t see morality as exclusively being an obligation to other people. Indeed, in its purest form, it is an obligation to oneself and is to one’s standards and desires. You could say that God has no desires, but he has a nature to which his actions must be benchmarked. If, as many theists will claim, God has some kind of free will, then God has an ability to act in any number of ways. There is no doubt here that we get into a whole suite of problems, many of which I have set out in other pieces:

But this doesn’t take away from the idea that God has moral character will stop it seems perfectly clear to me that any sentience entity that acts and interacts with other living creatures is moral – their actions have moral dimensions. Therefore, God is moral.

Joseph Lombardi sets out in American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, in his essay “Against God’s Moral Goodness“:

Questions about the moral goodness of God usually arise in discussions of the problem of evil. But matters other than the quantity and types of evil in the world might also called divine moral perfection into question. Consider the following argument. God is not perfectly good in the moral sense unless God always fulfils his moral obligations. This, in turn, presupposes that God has moral obligations. But there are features of the divine nature which make it impossible for God to have such obligations. Therefore, God is not perfectly good in the moral sense.

William Alston, in his 1989 paper “Some Suggestions for Divine Command Theorists” discusses the term obligation at length, saying the “S has a moral obligation to do A” essentially means “(morally) ought to do A”, and:

It leaves us without any adequate way of construing the goodness of God. No doubt, it leaves us free to take God to be metaphysically good; but it forecloses any conception of God as morally good, as exemplifying the sort of goodness that is cashed out in being loving, just, and merciful. For since the standards of moral goodness are set by divine commands, to say that God is morally good is just to say that He obeys His own commands. And even if it makes sense to think of God as overbearing commands that He has given Himself, that is not at all what we have in mind when thinking of God as morally good. We aren’t just thinking that God practices what He preaches, whatever that may be….

For if God is good in the right way, there will be nothing arbitrary about His commands. On the contrary His goodness will ensure that He issues those commands for the best

Alston continues by discussing how incoherent moral obligation is when attempting to apply it both to humans and to God. “For if it is the same, how could it be constituted so differently in the two cases? And if what it is for God to have an obligation is something quite different from what it is for a human being to have an obligation, how is divine obligation to be construed? I have no idea.”

Craig claims that God “can give and take life as He chooses”. God certainly can do this (he has the ability if he exists) – but taking life gratuitously and causing pain gratuitously falls into the trap of the problem of evil.

What Craig is saying here is essentially that God can do whatever the hell he likes, murder and rape an entire species of sentient creatures, and be let off the hook because he is not moral. How can these same people say God is love and God is good? How can they say that God is perfect? Again, this is a case of a solution to one theistic conundrum not cohere in with other theistic conundrums and solutions. Let’s see if Craig’s claims chime with the Bible:

Nahum 1:7

“The LORD is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble, And He knows those who take refuge in Him.”

Mark 10:18

“And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.”

James 1:17

“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”

Romans 2:4

“Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and long suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?”

Romans 8:28

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

Romans 12:2

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

There are loads more, but you get the point. The Bible explicitly claims God is (morally) good.

The key to what Alston proposes as a solution to maintaining that God is good but has no obligations in the sense of DCTs is as follows: “If this move is to work, we will have to develop an account of divine moral goodness that does not involve the satisfaction of moral obligations.”

Alston sets out that some say God is “essentially perfectly good” and it would be impossible for him to fail to be good when speaking of God’s duties or oughts. The question might return to the issue I set out in a previously linked piece, that God’s nature determines his actions so that he cannot act freely/have free will. Alston maintains that, even though there is no way that God can fail to, say, love his rational creations, he still ought to do so. Even if there is an overwhelming obviousness to a statement, it doesn’t invalidate the truth of a statement. This, Alston calls “the inappropriateness argument”. (I have to admit, there is some confusion in Alston’s paper as he presents arguments, Devil’s Advocate arguments and counter-arguments and you are often not sure which of these he actually adheres to.)

Alston continues by separating some conception of moral goodness from moral obligation.

The fact that it would be, morally, a good thing for me to do A must not be confused with the fact that I morally ought to do A, that it is morally required of me, that I am morally blameworthy in case I fail to do it.

There is this idea of supererogation, whereby it might be morally good that I teach children in a Siberian village to play the piano, but I’m not morally obliged to do so. What Craig’s defence seems to do is to say that God is not morally obliged to love his creations, but also that in loving them, this is somehow not morally good (i.e. it has no moral value because God is not moral). It is as if there is some kind of moral vacuum when considering God. So what Alston appears to end up saying is that God cannot have moral obligations qua divine commands, as he is not obligated to anyone else, but he can still have moral goodness in his actions.

Of course, the problem for theists is when a critical analysis of the Bible shows that God is in contravention of those perfect moral standards. In breaking promises and in justifying rape or genocide, does God invalidate his perfect moral goodness, his omnibenevolence? And we return to the problem of evil.

Eleanore Stump, Catholic philosopher, has pointed out that God has entered into covenants and promises with people in the Bible and this constitutes obligation. Breaking these, should God do so, would be less than morally perfect and show that God is under some kind of moral obligation. I don’t think that Alston’s defence of this Stump example is as he says: an anthropomorphism (such as God “stretching out his arm”). If God promises to do something, then he promises to do something (it reminds me of the Jewish concentration camp prisoners of war taking God to court for breaking the covenant).

Alston concludes of this: “In particular, we can think of God as perfectly good, morally as well as otherwise, even if that moral goodness does not consist in the perfect satisfaction of obligations.” There is more to moral goodness than moral obligation. Terms like justice, mercy and love all have moral dimensions, and all supposedly apply to God.

When Alston talks of these arguments to evade the issues of the Euthyphro Dilemma, he says: “We evaded the first horn by taking God’s moral goodness, including the moral goodness of divine actions, not to be constituted by conformity to moral obligations, and hence not to be constituted by conformity to divine commands, even on this ethical theory.” He is saying that there is moral goodness in divine actions.

The issues with Craig’s approach are then:

  • You can have obligations to yourself.
  • You can have obligations even if you are constrained to act to a single outcome.
  • You can be moral outside of obligations.
  • God is moral (if he exists).
  • Craig incoherently argues for moral consequentialism whilst simultaneously calling it a terrible ethic and denying God is moral because he has no obligations.
  • And, therefore, the claim that God is a moral consequentialist maintains.

To conclude, despite various potential objections, it seems apparent that the moral value derived from the actions of God have their basis in the consequences of those actions, and not in their intrinsic morality (if this exists at all). Either the objective morality claimed by theists does not exist, or it is consistently trumped by the consequences of the actions. Whether the consequences are defined with a classical utility – or something else, such as justice or love – is neither here nor there, and this can be discussed elsewhere. What is apparent is that if this is the case, then theists might do well to adjust their own moral philosophy, or to explain why the moral code of God is different to our own, if God is supposed to be the moral benchmark against which we all act, and whose moral nature is reflected in our own personal moral dignity.

NOTES:

[1] Slaughter of the Canaanites, William Lane Craig, http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5767 (retrieved 01/01/2012) [2] Does Morality Depend on God?, P. Wesley Edwards, http://www.freethoughtdebater.com/FDoesMoralityDepend.htm (retrieved 01/01/2012)

 

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