Rethinking Nielsen’s World Without God

CritiqueImagine for a second that there is no God. Imagine God is dead. What would we expect our world to look like if God did not exist? Based on this idea a brilliant, young Irish economist by the name of Robert Nielsen has presented an interesting, but ultimately unpersuasive case in his article World Without God. Nielsen states that this argument in the foundation for his atheism. I hope to test his case below:

I could say many things about Nielsen’s article,  but I would like to focus exclusively on his main argument which is as follows¹:

1. a. If God existed & control the world, then our world would exhibit features A.

    b. If God existed & control the world, then our world would not exhibit features B.

2. a. Our world does not exhibit features A.

    b. Our world does exhibit features B

Nielsen defends premises 1 and 2 as follows: If God controls our world then we would expect our world to exhibit certain features A. These features include those of a perfect world. He argues, “its fair to assume that it would be perfect (assuming God can do anything and loves us).” A perfect world is that  without hunger, without fear, without diseases or disasters. In short it would be the world without pain and suffering. This is not enough for Nielsen. God must also be self-evident, not hidden from His creatures, thus creating no possibility of religious confusion. Our world needs to be a paradise, or something close.

Our world, if it is not the case God exists and control it, according to Nielsen, exhibits features B: It is a world that he apparently believes is without an overarching plan. It is a world of pure cosmic chance. It is a world of struggle to overcome and survive natural and moral disasters. It is a world without external intervention to prevent either mass killing nor gratuitous evils. It is the world without a being above to prevent widespread poverty. Our world is not a paradise.

From (1) and (2), Nielsen’s deduced:

3. Therefore, it is not the case that God exists & controls the world.

I find Nielsen’s case unpersuasive and unsound because premise  1 (a & b) is not only taken as an assumption without any proper basis but not necessarily true. Nielsen’s core assumption, viz., “If there was a world controlled by a God, its fair to assume that it would be perfect (assuming God can do anything and loves us)”, must not only be true but necessarily true for his case to be sound. The problem is that the premise is easily disputable and must be taken as a prima facie assumption. Nielsen only assumes, and offer no justification or rationalization to substantiate his first premise that if God is omnipotent and loves humanity that God therefore would have to construct a perfect world.

This assumption is not necessarily true. It is possible to have (i) a world W created and controlled by an omnipotent and loving God where (ii) W is not a perfect world. If this is possible then Nielsen’s argument fails. Consider the following just-so Christian saga² I used in my article On Behalf of Demea: Hume’s Problem of Evil:

All things were created by benevolent and omnipotent God. In the whole creation God made higher sentient creatures to exemplify His essential morally perfect character. These beings were created to first and foremost love, adore and serve their Maker, and love and serve each other. For there to be a genuine love, these being were endowed with freedom of will which is a necessary condition for true acts of loving, adoration and service.

Some of these sentient creatures misused their freedom of will in choosing not to exemplify their Makers moral perfect character. As a consequence, pain and suffering entered into the good things that God had created.

God is both able and willing to bring an end to pain and suffering at any given moment. The fact that the pain and suffering exists is because God has morally sufficient reason(s) to allow it for a specific duration of time. The time is coming where God will put an end to past and present instance of pain and suffering.

In this just-so Christian saga we have both (i) and (ii). Thus it is not the case, contrary to Nielsen, that “[i]f there was a world controlled by a God, its fair to assume that it would be perfect”. If this is what is at Nielsen’s core reasons for being an atheist, then my best friend’s atheism is not standing at solid grounds as he undoubtedly believes unless he present a positive case to show that his assumption is justified.

Notes:

1. Nielsen’s argument as it is is invalid because the world exhibiting features B does not necessary means a world without God. It could be a world similar but opposite to A, namely a world which God did not control it. This is the position of deists and Epicureans. Thus features B does not necessarily lead to atheism.

2. Another just-so story could be a modified Hindus’ saga: An Omnipotent and loving God created a world in which rewards, crime and punishment unfolds itself in a spiral-like karma and reincarnation of its creatures. Evil occurs to a person P in present life as the consequence of wrong actions by P in present or past life. This saga also includes (i) and (ii). See Does Karma & Reincarnation Solve The Problem of Evil?

Thank you Travis Wakeman for editing this post.

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9 thoughts on “Rethinking Nielsen’s World Without God

  1. Hi Prayson, I would have put more effort into the post and particularly into my assumptions had I known you would devote a whole post to it. I should have made clear that when I speak of God, I mean the one I was raised to believe in, namely a Christian (or specifically Catholic one). The kind of God who watches over you and protects you from harm etc. Of course there could be a God that does not intervene in human affairs but then he would not be the God as most people (at least in the English speaking world) think of him.

    So your argument at core (correct me if I’m mistaken) is that of free will. I’m pretty sure we’ve had this debate a few times before, so I won’t go into it all now. Suffice to say I don’t find it convincing because the Bible is full of examples of God violating people’s free will and in fact the whole idea of religion is a violation of free will.

    • Hi Robert, I began with a simple response which turnout to this post. I think you raised wonderful objection to belief in omnipotent and loving God in a world that prima facie appears to be more likely a world with no such being. I think you are more correct to raise this case not to theists, in general, but Judeo-Christians theism.

      As I showed on my notes, a person holding Hinduism concept of karma and reincarnation can easy answer any problem of pain and suffering: An Omnipotent and loving God created a world in which rewards, crime and punishment unfolds itself in a spiral-like karma and reincarnation of its creatures.

      He may then argued that to every evil(pain and suffering) E, E occurs to a person P in present life as the consequence of wrong actions by P in present or past life. This shows the God that intervene in human affairs yet correctly answer the problem you present. The world with features B is the world which rewards, crime and punishment unfolds.

      My rebuttal does not center at free will nor does one have to hold Hinduism. As a matter of fact it can stand even if free will is false idea. In short I could reduce my whole case into a rhetorical question:

      Is it possible that an omnipotent and loving God as believed by Christian has reason(s) to permit the pain and suffering we experience in our world?

  2. > The fact that the pain and suffering exists is because God has morally sufficient reason(s) to allow it for a specific duration of time.

    Which are what?

  3. Before atheists and theists can have a dialogue, they must mutually agree on a definition of God, otherwise they are talking past one another and wasting their time. Obviously Robert Nielsen is arguing against the existence of a God which is defined as simultaneously omnibenevolent and omnipotent, which is just a restatement of the argument made in ancient times by Epicurus. You are proposing a modification to that definition, a God who defers his goodness and power to allow free will to flourish, thus turning the horror of the holocaust into something of a teachable moment, with punishments to be handed out in an afterlife when they no longer have any deterrent effect on behavior and amount to vengeance. The allies, however (though their actions might have demonstrated an impatience or unbelief in God’s master plan) were not willing to suffer such an unspeakable horror to continue, and at great sacrifice of lives and treasure brought Nazi Germany to an end. And yet, no doubt, the survivors in the camps uttered in the end, “The liberators are here, thank God!”

    • Excellent!
      I doubt, however that a consensus will be reached regarding the definition ‘God’, simply because Christians consider the biblical character, Jesus of Nazareth to be the creator of the universe, and here, I believe , is where Christians should start; by explaining how Jesus of Nazareth is this creator deity.

      • Particularly when this creator deity could do no great miracles in his hometown because of their unbelief. “Always with the negative waves, Moriarty!” I can hear him saying.

        • And then we will get the dismissive hand-waving if we have the temerity to suggest that JC’s godhood was bestowed by those illustrious, pious fellows during the Nicene conclave.
          Yes…ho hum…

          • The mere concept of pain and suffering suggests that pleasure and happiness exist. The same way that the concept of evil suggests the existence of good. Or is it that evil and good are relative? Therefore the existence of evil does not necessarily dismiss the possibility of existence of a good God.

          • LOl…what is this? Philosophy 101 …
            my goodness; the lengths some folk will go to just to insert their god into the equation.
            Ark shakes his head…silly Christians.

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