Is it Reasonable to Believe that God is Good?

In his debate with William Lane Craig, Stephen Law raised the challenge of an evil-god: if we dismiss the existence of an evil-god because of the amount of good in the world, why shouldn’t we dismiss the existence of an all-good god based on the amount of evil in the world?

Edward Feser has written a good discussion of the merits and demerits of this challenge here.

(HT: Timmy H)

23 replies
  1. peterpieman
    peterpieman says:

    Every year, countless human beings are tortured to such an extent that they find no option but to end their own lives. This is not a world that a good-god would create.

  2. Lee
    Lee says:

    An “all good” god would act, in every circumstance, in a way that results in the best possible world for all things and creatures within his power.

    The best possible world is a world in which no evil exists. (Some would say this is the best possible world, but I’m always left wondering what heaven is supposed to be? Could it really be that the child who drowns in a tsunami arrives in heaven only to be assaulted with polio?)

    An all powerful god would not be limited in his ability to achieve his purposes.

    If a being exists which is all-good, but not all powerful, some evil would exist that he/she/it would be powerless to prevent.

    If a being exists which is all-powerful, but not all-good, some evil would exist that he/she/it is not obligated to prevent.

    If a being exists which is both all-powerful, and all-good, no evil would exist as he/she/it would be both obligated to prevent it, and able to do so.

    The world is rife with evil.

    Therefore, an all-good god could exist, and an all-powerful god could exist, but an all-good and all-powerful god does not.

    Lee

  3. Sam Hight
    Sam Hight says:

    One of the difficult things in believing that there could be a perfectly good God who allows evil in the world, is that the only way for us to understand this perfectly good God, and his methods of promoting goodness (apparently through evil), is to be him ourselves.

    But before you can even approach the problem of objective evil, you have to first admit the existence of a god by whom good and evil is defined.

    Here is another point: if God exists then good and evil must be defined within Him, otherwise He is only referring to another standard that is external to Himself. I think it is pretty obvious that God cannot be both absolutely good and absolutely evil, so he is just one or the other. In this framework, if He is good, then evil is defined as an absence of God.

    Now, if good and evil are defined by the being of God, then it is irrelevant to argue that there could be an evil God. This is because even if He was evil by what we call evil, then He would just call it good and our definitions would change. God would not call himself evil/bad.

    You could also consider a Triune evil God that is constantly in conflict with himself rather than the Triune good God that is constantly in love and harmony. Again, an evil god makes no sense with this.

    I could go on but my purpose in this post is just to offer some ideas to bounce off/around. Now I’m off to check out the Edward Feser link :-)

  4. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Lee, you’re obviously not aware that the logical problem of evil has been decisively defeated by philosophers like Alvin Plantinga. There isn’t really any controversy about this, even among atheist philosophers. So your attempts to revive it here are really just indications that you haven’t bothered to familiarize yourself with the current state of play.

    An “all good” god would act, in every circumstance, in a way that results in the best possible world for all things and creatures within his power.

    Another assertion in lieu of an argument.

    The best possible world is a world in which no evil exists.

    On the contrary, the best possible world is one in which God’s attributes are maximally exemplified, which is impossible without the existence of evil, since otherwise there would be no exemplification of justice, wrath, agape, or mercy.

    An all powerful god would not be limited in his ability to achieve his purposes.

    God is still limited by what is logically possible. He cannot create a world in which his attributes are maximally exemplified, and create a world devoid of evil. The two are mutually contradictory.

    Your argument fails on every single premise. And it will continue to fail, no matter how you present it, because there simply is no logical problem of evil.

  5. Lee
    Lee says:

    “…a world in which his attributes are maximally exemplified…”

    Where did this come from? You have added an additional requirement to the argument, and then declared it invalid on the basis of this inclusion. Is there justification for this?

  6. Lee
    Lee says:

    “But before you can even approach the problem of objective evil, you have to first admit the existence of a god by whom good and evil is defined.”

    I like where this is going, continue…

    “Now, if good and evil are defined by the being of God, then it is irrelevant to argue that there could be an evil God. This is because even if He was evil by what we call evil, then He would just call it good and our definitions would change. God would not call himself evil/bad.”

    There is something supremely rewarding when your opponent’s hand your arguments to you on a silver platter. Sam, what you are saying is that rape could be defined as good in your worldview, that there is no logical contradiction in this. For what it’s worth, I agree, but this makes a mockery of the so-called “morality” of divine command theory. This is what it means for a system of ethics to be arbitrary.

    I needn’t comment further, as I’m certain Bnonn will leap to the task of correcting you, seeing as “you haven’t bothered to familiarize yourself with the current state of play.”

    Lee.

  7. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    One of the basic tenets of Christianity is that God created the world for his own glory.

    Mind you, even if this wasn’t known, its mere possibility constitutes a defeater to your premise. As I say, the logical problem of evil is utterly dead, and has been for years.

    I guess you could give the evidential problem of evil a shot. But that’s hardly a knock-down argument. Even if it does give us evidence against God’s existence (and I don’t think it does), it doesn’t do much in the face of so much cumulative evidence for God’s existence.

  8. Lee
    Lee says:

    Even were I to grant you that “God created the world for his own glory”, it does not follow that the world must be such that his attributes are maximally exemplified. Sculptures, paintings, architecture, all of these things can be created for the glory of the artist by demonstrating skill or creativity, it is not necessary that it be a mirror image of their own attributes.

    In what form of logic is the mere possibility of a premise being wrong considered a defeater of an argument? If the premise is plausible, indeed more plausible than it’s anti-thesis, that is all the argument needs. To defeat an argument, you must show a premise to be false, or show that the conclusion does not follow. I mean, turn this idea on your own arguments for God: if it is possible that any of the premises are false, they are all defeated. This sounds like cheating to me.

    Lee.

  9. Tom Larsen
    Tom Larsen says:

    So, Lee, you concede that God might exist given the amount of evil in the world?

    Perhaps the best possible world is a multiverse of universes, each universe containing more good than evil overall—or, perhaps, even just some good at all (for I do not see why evil should have veto power over good)—and we happen to find ourselves in a universe containing quite a bit of evil. It seems to me that the mere possibility of that hypothesis’ being true is enough to refute the logical problem of evil.

  10. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Lee, if you grant that God created the world for his own glory—which you’re pretty much bound to because that’s what Christianity says, and you’re trying to critique Christianity—then you’re bound to accept that it is perfectly consistent, and indeed probable, that God would create the world to maximally exemplify his attributes. Because that’s what “glorify” means.

    But you don’t even have to accept that. You simply have to accept basic Christian theology, which is that God created a world in which there is evil precisely in order to show his justice, his wrath, and particularly his love and his mercy. For example, see Romans 9 or Exodus 9–11. “Maximal” exemplification not required.

    In what form of logic is the mere possibility of a premise being wrong considered a defeater of an argument? If the premise is plausible, indeed more plausible than it’s anti-thesis, that is all the argument needs.

    Sure, but you’re ignoring two levels of context:

    1. The logical problem of evil rides on the premise that the best possible world is a world in which no evil exists (WNE). But you gave no support for [WNE]. What could possibly justify it? It’s not self-evidently true. It doesn’t carry any intuitive weight (at least, not to me). It’s certainly possibly false. And given our greatly impoverished epistemic state in comparison to God, it’s clear that there may well be all kinds of reasons that it’s false which we simply aren’t cognitively equipped to understand (or in an epistemic position to know even if we were so equipped).

    Without criteria to evaluate the plausibility of [WNE], and given our acknowledged epistemic limitations, at best it has a probability of .5 in relation to its contradictory. It’s a toss-up. And you’ve hardly got knock-down odds when your coin only comes up heads half the time.

    2. The LPoE stands alone against a large number of quite rigorous arguments and other evidences in favor of its contradictory. Given these evidences, the probability of [WNE] is actually far less than .5.

    Again, that’s assuming some kind of basic version of theism that doesn’t even furnish us with the slightest idea of what the best possible world is. Not only does the LPoE not defeat that kind of basic theism, but it can’t even gain the slightest traction against the robust theism of Christianity.

  11. Lee
    Lee says:

    then you’re bound to accept that it is perfectly consistent, and indeed probable, that God would create the world to maximally exemplify his attributes. Because that’s what “glorify” means.

    In what dictionary does glorify mean that? Further, what makes that probable? It seems more probable that a perfectly good being would not need to vent his temper or bully someone weaker to prove a point; these are the actions of an unruly child or a tyrant.

    But since I don’t need to accept that anyways, I won’t press you.

    God created a world in which there is evil precisely in order to show his justice, his wrath, and particularly his love and his mercy.

    Textbook vanity. But even if this were so, one demonstration would be sufficient. If you wish to prove that you are stronger than you’re neighbor, a simple contest of strength would suffice; why is beating your neighbor over the head with an iron bar necessary to show that you can cease doing so out of mercy? This sounds like a failure of imagination, borderline sadism. I find it hard to believe you can call this “consistent” with a perfectly good being.

    The logical problem of evil rides on the premise that the best possible world is a world in which no evil exists (WNE). But you gave no support for [WNE]. What could possibly justify it? It’s not self-evidently true. It doesn’t carry any intuitive weight (at least, not to me). It’s certainly possibly false.

    When you envision the world being a better place, do you also envision parts of it being inhabited by immense suffering in order that you can appreciate the fact that you aren’t experiencing it? If you could do one thing to improve the world, wouldn’t alleviating suffering on some level be first and foremost in your mind? or would you seriously consider adding a bit of suffering to foster compassion for yourself? I can grant that it is possibly false, but doesn’t hold any intuitive weight? Doesn’t appear more plausible than any other alternative? I don’t think we’ll ever reconcile our differences on these issues if you don’t think a world without evil is plausibly better than the world we live in.

    As far as our limitations, this is a double-edged sword. Not being able to discern the reasons for suffering would rob us of any reasons to suppose that such suffering has a reason. The whole question is whether such a being exists, you can’t answer an argument against the existence of such a being by saying that said being somehow resolves it because it exists.

  12. Tom Larsen
    Tom Larsen says:

    Lee, I look forward to your response to my multiverse defence.

    You wrote, “Not being able to discern the reasons for suffering would rob us of any reasons to suppose that such suffering has a reason.” Well, really? I’ve experienced God, and His goodness, grace, and wisdom, and on the basis of my experience I’m led to think that God must have good reasons for permitting evil and suffering in the world, even though I can’t discern them accurately.

    You can trust a person’s motivations without knowing their reasons.

  13. Lee
    Lee says:

    Sure, Tom, I’ll bite :)

    So, Lee, you concede that God might exist given the amount of evil in the world?

    Some form of a god might exist, certainly, perhaps one who is not all-good or one who is not all-powerful. That is perfectly consistent with this compromising mentality you and Bnonn are sketching. You might say, “well, he isn’t perfectly good, so while it is within his power, he doesn’t desire to eradicate all evil” or perhaps, “well, he isn’t all-powerful, so while he may desire to eradicate all evil, this is the best he could do”. The LPoE doesn’t argue against either of those, only a being who embodies both omnibenevolence and omnipotence.

    Well, really? I’ve experienced God, and His goodness, grace, and wisdom, and on the basis of my experience I’m led to think that God must have good reasons for permitting evil and suffering in the world, even though I can’t discern them accurately.

    I don’t mean to be rude, here, but this is a little naive. What do you think the ten-year-old living in a trash heap in Gaza would say? I imagine his opinion would be precisely the opposite. To say you have “experienced God” is slightly begging the question. How do you know chance didn’t simply place you in a fortuitous position? I spend some time every day forcefully recognizing how truly lucky I am to be living as comfortably as I am, and it is fallacious to assume that my experience is somehow revealing the nature of God while the ten-year-old experiencing a living hell is not.

    You can trust a person’s motivations without knowing their reasons.

    This is the move I objected to above: you are basically denying the conclusion, and then declaring a premise false on the basis of this denial. Essentially: since an all-powerful and all-good God does exist in the presence of such evil, he/she must have good reasons for permitting it. But that is the very question under discussion! The more I ponder this, the more strange it appears to me. Just because it is possible that, say, your neighbor has good reasons for beating and starving his children, doesn’t mean you have good reasons for believing that he has such reasons, or that it is even plausible that such reasons could exist!

    But throw all of these objections of mine away, say your response is adequate to refute the LPoE. Say he has good reasons for ‘permitting’ such a plethora of evil. As a testament to God’s goodness, power, justice, etc., I’m not impressed. I probably never will be, since it is unlikely that even if he does exist, he will ever divulge his reasons except perhaps to slip me a bar napkin in the elevator to hell. This is why leaders give speeches, outlining their motivations, their reasons, because it is simply asking too much to just expect people to wade through such misery and horror with a vague idea that something good will come of it.

    I’m here, asking, discussing, arguing, and it still looks like bunk to me. I can’t help that.

    Lee.

  14. D Bnonn Tennant
    D Bnonn Tennant says:

    In what dictionary does glorify mean that?

    I’m not sure why you’d be looking in a dictionary, since it’s a theological term.

    It seems more probable that a perfectly good being would not need to vent his temper or bully someone weaker to prove a point; these are the actions of an unruly child or a tyrant.

    Needless to say, since this isn’t what glorification entails, there’s no need to respond to your strawman.

    Textbook vanity.

    A notably incoherent charge against a perfect being. Given God’s perfection, any exemplification of his attributes is good by definition.

    But even if this were so, one demonstration would be sufficient.

    Because you say so? I guess you and God have different opinions. Whatever shall we do?

    If you wish to prove that you are stronger than you’re neighbor, a simple contest of strength would suffice; why is beating your neighbor over the head with an iron bar necessary to show that you can cease doing so out of mercy?

    Another strawman.

    This sounds like a failure of imagination, borderline sadism. I find it hard to believe you can call this “consistent” with a perfectly good being.

    Since I don’t accept your emotive characterization, I don’t need to square it with God’s character.

    When you envision the world being a better place, do you also envision parts of it being inhabited by immense suffering in order that you can appreciate the fact that you aren’t experiencing it?

    As I’ve already said, none of us are in an epistemic position to make this kind of judgment. Not remotely. Mind you, it doesn’t help that you’re judging whether a world is better or worse against the standard of human suffering. That’s just patently question-begging given that the LPoE is aimed at a worldview where those sorts of questions are judged against an entirely different standard—namely God’s glory.

    If you could do one thing to improve the world, wouldn’t alleviating suffering on some level be first and foremost in your mind?

    Not per se. If I could do one thing to improve the world, I would bring about a revival of Christianity—even if that led to more suffering. Better to suffer on earth for a short while than in hell forever. But again, why ask me? I’m not in an epistemically privileged enough position to make my own inclinations remotely relevant. Neither are you.

    I don’t think we’ll ever reconcile our differences on these issues if you don’t think a world without evil is plausibly better than the world we live in.

    I presume you’re borrowing the term “evil” from Christianity here. Under your worldview, there’s no reason whatever to think that suffering is evil. Indeed, evolution entails untold suffering, yet presumably you don’t think evolution is evil.

    In any case, no, I don’t expect we will ever reconcile our differences. You take man’s wellbeing as the start and end points for all your value judgments. I take God’s glorification as the start and end points for all my value judgments. Assuming God exists, you’re obviously wrong. Assuming God does not exist, I’m obviously wrong.

    As far as our limitations, this is a double-edged sword. Not being able to discern the reasons for suffering would rob us of any reasons to suppose that such suffering has a reason.

    How does that follow? If, ex hypothesi, God exists and is perfectly good, then, ex hypothsi, God has good and sufficient reasons for allowing evil.

    There’s nothing incoherent or self-contradictory about that claim.

  15. Lee
    Lee says:

    ^^ 2:30 am comments after a significant amount of alcohol read as coherently as I thought they would.

    I’m not sure why you’d be looking in a dictionary, since it’s a theological term.

    Fine, assign any definition you wish.

    As I’ve already said, none of us are in an epistemic position to make this kind of judgment. Not remotely.

    If we cannot rely upon our limited epistemology for this, we cannot rely upon it for anything. We are as likely to be living in a physical universe governed by a good God as we are to be simulations run on software of the future, or something similar to the matrix, or nothing physical exists at all and only one of us exists in some non-temporal sense, and dreaming up the rest of the universe. If nothing can be judged, everything is suspect, and we’re both just wasting time (if such a thing even exists). Radical skepticism of this sort is severely damaging to any discussion, and I don’t see how you are warranted in taking such a position on this question rather than on any, or every, other. You are essentially taking Descarte’s table and wiping it completely clean again in order to escape this argument.

    …the LPoE is aimed at a worldview where those sorts of questions are judged against an entirely different standard—namely God’s glory

    But interestingly enough, the argument is not aimed at your worldview per se. It is aimed at what the premises laid out: an all-powerful, all-good god. I have not assumed that the bible, various theologians, or even the vast majority of christians, are correct! An all-powerful, all-good god does not logically entail any of the objections you have raised, nor have you established the plausibility of any of them beyond mere assertion. Hell, the glory of this being, his attributes, salvation, all of these are mere professions of faith; a being such as I described could just as plausibly exist without any of this theological baggage as with it.

    Mind you, it doesn’t help that you’re judging whether a world is better or worse against the standard of human suffering. That’s just patently question-begging…

    If I could do one thing to improve the world, I would bring about a revival of Christianity—even if that led to more suffering. Better to suffer on earth for a short while than in hell forever.

    If hell is eternal suffering, and by your own admission is worse than a shorter term of suffering, then how is judging the world based on suffering question-begging? You said it is “better to suffer on earth for a short while”, but why is that better than hell? Surely you aren’t “judging whether a world is better or worse against the standard of human suffering.”

    I presume you’re borrowing the term “evil” from Christianity here. Under your worldview, there’s no reason whatever to think that suffering is evil. Indeed, evolution entails untold suffering, yet presumably you don’t think evolution is evil.

    Suffering is still suffering, even if it is not objectively evil. I don’t prefer suffering, you don’t prefer it as is evident, no one I have ever met or will likely ever meet prefers suffering. You presume much; I think the process of natural selection is evil if and only if a God exists, otherwise, it just is the way the world is and we can all dream of it being better. An idea, or a theory, can’t be evil.

    How does that follow? If, ex hypothesi, God exists and is perfectly good, then, ex hypothsi, God has good and sufficient reasons for allowing evil.

    The conclusion of the LPoE follows from the premises. In order to escape the conclusion, you must deny one or more of the premises. It does you no work to deny the conclusion, and use such denial to deny a premise. Take the moral argument:

    1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.

    2. Objective moral values do exist.

    } Therefore, God exists.

    Now, lets try this ex hypothesi crap of yours: Since God does not exist, and objective moral values do exist, then premise (1) is false: Objective moral values do exist in the absence of God(by virtue of some mysterious foundation our limited epistemic position leaves us ignorant of). Obviously, this won’t wash. I have to attack the premise head on. You are likely to say, “that is precisely what I’m doing by pointing out that it is plausible that an all-powerful, all-good god can exist in the presence of ‘evil’.” But you haven’t actually demonstrated plausibility, you have merely asserted it as a possibility. We both agreed that to admit a premise is possibly false is not to defeat an argument. In order to go from possibly false to probably false, you need a reason for thinking it is more likely false than true. Unfortunately, you have ruled out this possibility by “playing the mystery card”. Since we can’t know the reasons for allowing evil, we can’t judge that this hypothesis is plausible.

    So instead, you try to demonstrate plausibility by turning this into an observation: God exists and suffering exists, so this is a reason to think that he has reasons for allowing it(by virtue of some mysterious reason our limited epistemic position leaves us ignorant of). Unconvincing, to say the least.

    Lee.

  16. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    If we cannot rely upon our limited epistemology for this, we cannot rely upon it for anything. We are as likely to be living in a physical universe governed by a good God as we are to be simulations run on software of the future, or something similar to the matrix, or nothing physical exists at all and only one of us exists in some non-temporal sense, and dreaming up the rest of the universe.

    I don’t see how this follows. Can you show how you got from our epistemic limitations specifically in relationship to God to the kind of radical skepticism you say follows from it?

    You are essentially taking Descarte’s table and wiping it completely clean again in order to escape this argument.

    I don’t think you’ve understood me then. All I’ve said is that even if we didn’t know of any reasons for God to allow evil, and even if we couldn’t conceive of any plausible ones, it doesn’t therefore follow that there are none. This is the classic “Noseeum Objection”, which has been swimming with the fishies in philosophy for some time now.

    But interestingly enough, the argument is not aimed at your worldview per se.

    Needless to say, I don’t have to respond to an argument that isn’t aimed at my worldview. If you think the argument is effective against some other kind of theism, why should I care? It’s not effective against my kind.

    If hell is eternal suffering, and by your own admission is worse than a shorter term of suffering, then how is judging the world based on suffering question-begging? You said it is “better to suffer on earth for a short while”, but why is that better than hell? Surely you aren’t “judging whether a world is better or worse against the standard of human suffering.”

    Fair enough. But remember, I specifically disclaimed my proposed action by saying I’m not in a position to know what the best thing to do would be. When I proposed a revival of Christianity, I wasn’t actually thinking in terms of suffering, but in terms of the Great Commission. If I could change one thing, it would be to see that fulfilled to a greater degree.

    Bear in mind, though, that this is a highly speculative scenario. For instance, under Christianity, the only way I could make significant changes to the world like this would either be through demonic power, or some kind of prophetic miracle (“prophetic” does not refer to prediction here; it’s another theological term).

    Obviously I would refuse any overture on the part of a demon—and needless to say, he would refuse to use his power in such a way anyhow!

    But equally obviously, if God himself offered me the chance to change the world, I would have the opportunity to consult with him rather than making a unilateral decision.

    The conclusion of the LPoE follows from the premises. In order to escape the conclusion, you must deny one or more of the premises.

    As indeed I have. Remember, I denied premise [2]: “The best possible world is a world in which no evil exists.”

    My original point was to observe that (1) in a purely philosophical sense we have no way of knowing this, (2) it is false under Christianity, and (3) that it carries no intuitive force with me. So it’s not only an implausible premise, but a premise which is necessarily false under Christianity.

    If you want to attack some other kind of theism, or a strawman of Christianity, you can go right ahead. But as a defeater to Christianity, the LPoE is simply a non-starter.

  17. Lee
    Lee says:

    I don’t see how this follows. Can you show how you got from our epistemic limitations specifically in relationship to God to the kind of radical skepticism you say follows from it?

    I didn’t imply that it follows directly, only that “I don’t see how you are warranted in taking such a position on this question rather than on any, or every, other.” What is the fundamental difference between appealing to our epistemic limitations on this question and doing the same on, say, the existence of physical reality?

    All I’ve said is that even if we didn’t know of any reasons for God to allow evil, and even if we couldn’t conceive of any plausible ones, it doesn’t therefore follow that there are none.

    No, of course not, that wasn’t the claim I am making. I merely pointed out that if we don’t have possession of any of these reasons, appealing to our shared ignorance is not an argument against the premise. You only get a possibly false conclusion, not a probably false one, and from where I’m sitting, it doesn’t seem as though you have any reason to suppose such justifications exist except for your desire to harmonize this being with the present state of nature.

    Needless to say, I don’t have to respond to an argument that isn’t aimed at my worldview. If you think the argument is effective against some other kind of theism, why should I care? It’s not effective against my kind.

    Per se, I said. If there is an all-powerful, all-good deity, Christianity can be true (or Judaism/Islam/some form of deism, etc., etc.). However, if such a being does not exist (i.e. if this argument works), Christianity as you imagine it is not true. So while it isn’t precisely aimed at your specific worldview, it has implications on it. Now, the most common response to this argument, and the reason, in my humble opinion, that most view this argument is dead, is the concession that perhaps the christian god is not all-powerful, but merely extremely powerful. Powerful enough to accomplish the feats attributed to Him/Her/It. I have even heard it said that the original Greek language doesn’t even contain the concept of omnipotence. Of course, this causes a problem for the ‘greatest possible being’ argument, but I think most philosophers agree that particular argument is a bit of word play rather than good logic, and it’s rejection doesn’t do much work for the atheist.

    Fair enough. But remember, I specifically disclaimed my proposed action by saying I’m not in a position to know what the best thing to do would be. When I proposed a revival of Christianity, I wasn’t actually thinking in terms of suffering, but in terms of the Great Commission. If I could change one thing, it would be to see that fulfilled to a greater degree.

    I have above responded to your limitations defense. As far as the revival over alleviation, my questions were designed to prod your intuition rather than elicit certainty, and I thought they were quite successful. Lets put this another way: look at your loved ones, children, spouse, parents, etc.. Ignore the metaphysics of the afterlife for a moment, and pretend you are God, contemplating how best to fashion this new world. Can you look your loved ones in the eye and say that you would condemn most of them to the sort of suffering one finds in, say, east Africa, in order that a few recognize your existence/benevolence and earnestly desire a relationship with you? Or do you intuitively grasp, as I think we both do, that you would sacrifice everything(including your selfish desires to be loved) to give those you love a life with the least possible suffering? In the spirit of the thought experiment, I ask again: Is it not plausible that the best possible world that an all-good, all-powerful god could make for those he loves is a world without suffering/evil, even if this eclipses his desire to glorify himself?

    Another way to look at this is to recognize the very real, very powerful, argument from evil in all of it’s forms. This is, undoubtedly, the single most persuasive argument against the very existence of God. You may remain unconvinced, many Christians feel the same, but no one thinks it is unreasonable to be troubled by it. Given that belief in the existence of a thing is a precondition for having any type of relationship with it, is it not highly plausible that removing the number one impediment to belief in God would be far more effective than vaguely gesturing to some greater good that might or might not come about eons from now.

    Given this state of affairs, I can’t see any reason to continue accepting theological IOU’s that can’t even be established to have any value until after you are dead.

    My original point was to observe that (1) in a purely philosophical sense we have no way of knowing this, (2) it is false under Christianity, and (3) that it carries no intuitive force with me. So it’s not only an implausible premise, but a premise which is necessarily false under Christianity.

    (1) In a purely philosophical sense, I have no way of knowing I exist. This is a non-starter, and it applies with equal force to any premise in any argument. This only gets you to possibly false, anyway, so I’m not sure why you keep bringing it up.

    (2) Irrelevant, as I pointed out above. Your professions of faith do not constitute valid objections to this argument. Even if such a being exists, it does not follow that Christianity is true! If it makes it more likely, as surely it does, it is by such a small margin as to be largely irrelevant as it must contend with both the known beliefs of the various competing faiths, but also with conceptions that we haven’t even considered yet. You would have to show that, at the very least, most conceptions of this being cause the premise to be false in order to deliver the conclusion that it is an implausible premise.

    (3) I don’t believe you. I can’t imagine that your intuitions are so different than mine that you consider suffering tangential to the question of making the world a better place. Even your published opinions belie to this statement. I don’t mean to imply that you are lying to me, I just don’t think you are being honest with yourself.

  18. Tom Larsen
    Tom Larsen says:

    Lee, thanks for your response; please accept my apologies for this late response.

    I am convinced that God does exist, and that He is omniperfect. Your argument from evil against the existence of God seems to be based on an assumption that I do not accept, namely, if God exists, He would create one world and that world would be the best possible world. And I’ll concede, for the time being, that this world probably is not the best possible world (assuming, of course, that there really is such a thing as “the best possible world”). So your argument, if expressed in in logical form, would look a bit like this:

    (1) God would not permit any world but the best possible world to exist.
    (2) Our world exists.
    (3) Our world is not the best possible world.
    (4) Therefore, God does not exist.

    But I reject (1): I think that it’s quite likely that God has made many or perhaps even all “b-worlds,” where a “b-world” is a possible world W for which it is better that W exist in actual reality than not. You might not like the idea of a God who would do such a thing, but the hypothesis seems to me to be quite consistent with Christian theism; biblically speaking, it seems that God is more interested in planting and preserving good than in tearing up and destroying evil if there is a cost to good involved (see, for instance, Genesis 18.27–33). I’ve outlined this argument in a little more detail on my website.

  19. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    So while it isn’t precisely aimed at your specific worldview, it has implications on it.

    No it doesn’t, because by not being precisely aimed at my worldview, it actually completely misses my worldview.

    Now, the most common response to this argument, and the reason, in my humble opinion, that most view this argument is dead, is the concession that perhaps the christian god is not all-powerful, but merely extremely powerful.

    Well, no. Plantinga put the LPoE in the grave, and he is a Reformed Epistemologist, so he certainly believes in God’s complete power.

    In fact, positing that God is not all-powerful as a response to the LPoE is like cutting off your head to cure a headache. If God is not all-powerful, God is not causally necessary, in which case you’ve just emasculated Christianity and invented what is really an entirely new religion.

    Of course, this causes a problem for the ‘greatest possible being’ argument, but I think most philosophers agree that particular argument is a bit of word play rather than good logic, and it’s rejection doesn’t do much work for the atheist.

    On the contrary, this is certainly not accepted by “most” philosophers. In fact, I don’t know of any philosophers who think the ontological argument, in its various forms, is word play. Certainly many of them reject it for various reasons, such as rejecting “existence” as a predicate, or for modal reasons.

    Can you look your loved ones in the eye and say that you would condemn most of them to the sort of suffering one finds in, say, east Africa, in order that a few recognize your existence/benevolence and earnestly desire a relationship with you?

    You’re asking me to pretend that I am God. But God has a completely different viewpoint. For one thing, God sees sin as it actually is, rather than as how we see it—perhaps best characterized in that wonderful excuse “We’re only human”.

    Or do you intuitively grasp, as I think we both do, that you would sacrifice everything(including your selfish desires to be loved) to give those you love a life with the least possible suffering?

    Again, this makes no sense. God is not a man. His relationship to people is not directly analogous to our relationship with people. Neither is he subject to emotions in the same sense that we are (look up the doctrine of impassibility).

    In fact, Scripture describes God’s relationship to us as like a potter’s relationship to clay. So your argument from intuition fundamentally misses the mark.

    In the spirit of the thought experiment, I ask again: Is it not plausible that the best possible world that an all-good, all-powerful god could make for those he loves is a world without suffering/evil, even if this eclipses his desire to glorify himself?

    Since the glorification of God is the greatest possible good by definition, the question is incoherent.

    Furthermore, in the final analysis, the world which those whom God loves will inhabit is a world without suffering or evil. So even on your own terms, the question works against you.

    Another way to look at this is to recognize the very real, very powerful, argument from evil in all of it’s forms. This is, undoubtedly, the single most persuasive argument against the very existence of God.

    Do you mean in terms of sheer numbers of people convinced? What does that prove?

    Also, what of all the people drawn to faith precisely because of the evils they have witnessed? Westerners like to make a big deal of how the existence of terrible evils disproves the existence of God. But we’re not the ones who are subject to the worst evils. Why not poll people living in truly awful conditions, having truly awful things done to them?

    Yet oddly, Christianity flourishes under those kind of conditions.

    You may remain unconvinced, many Christians feel the same, but no one thinks it is unreasonable to be troubled by it.

    I think it’s unreasonable to be troubled by it in the sense of finding it an intellectually compelling reason to reject belief in God. I think the people who find it intellectually compelling are the people who either don’t understand theology properly, or who simply haven’t thought through the issues sufficiently.

    I don’t have a problem with people being troubled by it on an emotional level. Obviously we seldom have a specific idea of why an evil event has occurred. So it’s emotionally very easy to think of these events as gratuitous. But that doesn’t mean they are. That’s just something Christians have to work through.

    Given that belief in the existence of a thing is a precondition for having any type of relationship with it, is it not highly plausible that removing the number one impediment to belief in God would be far more effective than vaguely gesturing to some greater good that might or might not come about eons from now.

    Since the Bible isn’t vague on this issue, I’m not sure what you mean.

    And since the Bible exhorts us to value suffering as a means of sanctification, I don’t see why removing it would be helpful at all.

    (1) In a purely philosophical sense, I have no way of knowing I exist.

    Two obvious problems: Firstly, knowing you exist is actually about the only thing you can’t be skeptical about. Secondly, that’s a categorically different kind of skepticism to what I was talking about.

    (2) Irrelevant, as I pointed out above. Your professions of faith do not constitute valid objections to this argument.

    Not as long as you want to make the argument against some generic kind of theism, I suppose. But again, I don’t care if you disprove generic theism.

    (3) I don’t believe you. I can’t imagine that your intuitions are so different than mine that you consider suffering tangential to the question of making the world a better place.

    I’m not being dishonest; it’s simply that I condition my intuitions on Scripture, and not vice versa. I have a much stronger intuition of God’s goodness than I have of the difficulty of human suffering.

    Also, I’m not a very empathetic person. I am typically quite indifferent to the plight of others. Not something I’m proud of, but just something about my makeup.

  20. Lee
    Lee says:

    I’m not being dishonest; it’s simply that I condition my intuitions on Scripture, and not vice versa. I have a much stronger intuition of God’s goodness than I have of the difficulty of human suffering.

    Also, I’m not a very empathetic person. I am typically quite indifferent to the plight of others. Not something I’m proud of, but just something about my makeup.

    This series of admissions would have saved us both a lot of time and effort had they been divulged at the start. This perfectly explains the difficulties we are having in getting through to one another, and why it is unlikely to ever happen. No offense intended, of course, we are just so completely divergent in how we fundamentally approach these questions that any additional hammering away seems futile. I do appreciate the discussion, it has certainly been edifying of the Christian mindset, if nothing else; and thank you for your candor!

    Please be so kind as to consider these my closing remarks for both of the comments sections we have been sharing.

    Cheers,

    Lee.

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