Malignant Demon, Atheism and Search For Truth

Critique“Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind,” rhetorically asked Charles Darwin, “if there are any convictions in such a mind?” (Darwin 1881) In Darwin’s July 3rd 1881 letter to William Graham, we encounter a problem of epistemological uncertainty of our cognitive faculties. Darwin believed that Graham had accurately portrayed his conviction that “the Universe [was] not the result of chance.” He further explained,

“But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy”(ibid.).

Darwin’s unpleasant doubt is the incarnation of the Cartesian malignant Demon. In evolutionary biology, Rene Descartes’ malignant demon took on flesh and dwelt among us. This malignant demon is an “exceedingly potent and deceitful” being that  “has employed all his artifice to deceive” us to believe that we are experiencing an external world while in actual reality we are experiencing “nothing better than the illusions of dreams” (Descartes 1901, 224). Deceitfulness and falseness came through malignant Demon. Continue reading

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Armchair Proof of Existence of God

Socrates Death IDoes a being that is God1 exist? Before we can disagree on whether or not a being that is God exists, we need to agree on what a being that is God is. There cannot be any disagreement unless there is an agreement on what is that is disputed.

What is a being that is God? A being that is God is a being that there could not be other than that which nothing greater nor equal could be conceived2. Such a being, if exists, must exhibit maximal perfection. Therefore, a being that is God, borrowing Alvin Plantinga’s insightful words, is a being “having an unsurpassable degree of greatness—that is, having a degree of greatness such that it’s not possible that there exist a being having more.” (Plantinga 2002: 102 emp. removed).

My first premise in my attempt to answer the dispute of whether or not a being that is God exists, is thus:

(1) If a being-that-is-God exists then that being-that-is-God could not be other than that which nothing greater (or equal) could be conceived.

Anselm of Canterbury (1033—1109) argued that, if there was such a being then it is absurd to hold that such a being exists in our thoughts alone but not also in reality. According to Anselm, both atheists and theists can agree with (1) (Anselm 2009). Atheists would argue that such a being exists in our minds alone. Theists, however, would argue that such a being exists both in our minds and in reality. Continue reading

Scholarly Status of Logical Problem of Evil

BloodThe logical problem of evil is dead. This is the general status of the once loved argument against the existence of an omnicompetent God in academia. The idea that existence of evil is incompatible with the existence of God is dying.

This page collects verdicts of prominent philosophers who deem that the logical problem of evil  dead, after the contribution of Nelson Pike and Alvin Plantinga. The aim is to bring awareness to those who are not familiar with philosophical status of the deductive argument from evil in academia.

J. L. Mackie On Plantinga’s Free Will Defense:

“[S]ince this defence is formally possible, and its principle involves no real abandonment of our ordinary view of the opposition between good and evil, we can concede that the problem of evil does not, after all, show that the central doctrines of theism are logically inconsistent with one another.”(Mackie 1982: 154) Continue reading

Unnaturalness of Atheism

Johannes Moreelse Democritius

The idea that atheism ought be assumed by default is a chimera. Atheism cannot be assumed by default, it must be demonstrated. The belief that given the failure of theistic case for God, atheism ought be assumed does not only commit an appeal to ignorance but is also against the picture painted by modern discoveries in Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR).

Several recent researches in CSR shows that children naturally hold certain universal religious ideas such as belief in divine agents and belief in mind-body dualism. Similar to universals of language, universals of religious belief include principles that are shared in all culture and time, the belief in supernatural beings.

Paul Bloom explained that it was believed that those beliefs in Gods, the afterlife &c., could not have been a result of innate but social and cultural learned beliefs. Observing a recently growing body of literature on this field, however, Bloom affirmed that such a view is no longer entirely right. Though culture plays a certain role, “some of the universals of religion are unlearned”(Bloom 2007: 149) Jesse M. Bering concurs with Bloom’s observation. He wrote:

Although conventional wisdom tends to favor a general learning hypothesis for the origins of after-life beliefs, recent findings suggest a more complicated developmental picture (Bering 2006: 454). Continue reading

God, Love & Evil

Pain Pauls blog

The standard response to the traditional problem of pain and suffering, after Alvin Plantinga’s contributions1, is that there is a morally sufficient reason for a being that is God to permit or bring about instances of pain and suffering.

If it is possible, not necessarily true nor believed by (a)theists, that a being that is omnicompetent has a morally sufficient reason to permit or bring about instances of pain and suffering, then the traditional problem of pain and suffering fails to show that such a being cannot exists.

An atheologian, defending such a case, is now demanded to show that it is necessarily true that it is logically impossible for an omnicompetent God to have a morally sufficient reason to permit or bring about instances of pain and suffering.  “No one, I think,” correctly stated William L. Rowe, “has succeeded in establishing such an extravagant claim.” (Rowe 1979: 335 fn1) Paul Draper concurred: “I agree with most philosophers of religion that theists face no serious logical problem of evil”(Draper 1989: 349 fn1)

What could be a morally sufficient reason for a being that is God to permit or bring about instances of pain and suffering? A theologian could simply and legitimately say she does not know. As a limited being she cannot fathom the reason of unlimited Being to permit or bring about instances of pain and suffering. Shouldering a harder task, this article speculatively explored love as a possible morally sufficient reason from a Christian worldview.

It is a possible, not necessary true, that God created higher sentient creatures to exemplify His morally perfect character (1 Pet. 1:16). Higher sentient creatures were created to be in a loving-relationship with God and with each other (Matt. 22:37-39). Freedom of will, the ability to or not-to exemplify God’s essential character (through loving or not-loving God and each other), is essential for there to be a genuine loving-relationship.

Genuine love necessarily requires freedom of will. For higher sentient creatures to exercises freedom of will, they had to be created at an epistemic distance from God. Instances of pain and suffering are the consequences of some of higher sentient creature abusing their freedom of will. These higher sentient creatures chose not-to exemplify God’s essential morally perfect character.

According to Christians’ account, God, who is able to eliminate instances of pain and suffering at any moment, permits instances of pain and suffering for a specific period of time. There is a time in the future where the epistemic distance would be removed. This will be the time, which God will not only eliminate all instances of pain and suffering but also bring justice and restoration to the victims, and righteous punishment to all the evil-doers.

This Christians’ account does not have to be true or believed by others. It needs only to be possible. If it is, and I think it is, then the traditional logical problem of pain and suffering fails to show that the God Christians’ believe cannot exist.


[1] (1965). “The Free Will Defense,’ Philosophy in America. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press,  (1967) God and Other Minds: A Study of the Rational Justification of Belief in God. Ithaca: Cornell University Press and (1974) God, Freedom and Evil. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. Nelson Pike also ought to be included. Rower, William L. (1979) ‘The Problem Of Evil And Some Varieties Of Atheism,’ American Philosophical Quarterly Vol. 16. 4:335-341 Draper, Paul (1989) ‘Pain and Pleasure: An Evidential Problem For Theists,’ Noûs 23:331-350.

Necessary Existence of God

Da Vinci

Judeo-Christians understand God as a being  that is perfect in knowledge (Ps. 147:5), power (Job 42:2), presence (Ps. 139), acts (Ps. 18:30) and has none greater (Heb. 6:13) nor equal (Ps. 40:6).

Following Anselm’s:credimus te esse aliquid quo nihil maius cogitari possit“¹, God is understood to be a Being that exhibits maximal perfection. God is, borrowing Alvin Plantinga’s words, a being “having an unsurpassable degree of greatness—that is, having a degree of greatness such that it’s not possible that there exist a being having more.” (Plantinga 2002: 102 emp. removed)

God is thus understood to be a being having maximal excellence with respect to power (omnipotence), knowledge (omniscience), presence (omnipresence), and is morally perfect (this is why God cannot lie or be unrighteous).

From modal logic the existence of such a being(God) is either impossible or necessary. The concept of contingent existence of God is a contradictory idea since (i) necessarily, “a being is maximally great only if it has maximal excellence in every world” and (ii) necessarily, “a being has maximal excellence in every world only if it has omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection in every world.” (2002: 111)

Thus either the existence of God is impossible or necessary. The existence of God is not impossible. Therefore it is necessary. Therefore God, as understood by Judeo-Christians, exists.

Is this a persuasive case for existence of such a Being? No. I do not think it is. It does however show that Judeo-Christians’ understanding of God is rationally acceptable.

_____________________

¹ Anselmus Cantuariensis Prologion:  Trans. [W]e believe that You[God] are a being than which nothing greater can be conceived.

Plantinga, Alvin (2002) God, Freedom & Evil. First published by Harper and Row., 1974. Reprinted 2002.

 

The Beast Falls: The Cold Death Of Deductive Problem Of Evil

Harry Potter

In part I, The Beast Rises: The Deductive Problem of Evil, I introduced the logical problem of evil as defended by Hume and Mackie. In this second part I presented analytical Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga’s response, reception and status of logical problem evil in contemporary philosophy of religion.

Unlike the traditional responses of the problem of evil, theodicies, which attempted to give specific reasons that would justify a wholly good omnipotent God to permit evil, Plantinga offered a defense that does not provide any specific reasons but a possible, not necessarily true, proposition that will show that God and evil are logically compatible.

Plantinga produced his proposition as follows:

A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely
perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being
equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create free creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. As it turned out, sadly enough, some of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom; this is the source of moral evil. The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against His goodness; for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good. (Plantinga 1974: 30)

Adding Plantinga’s propositions:

3b. It was not within God’s power to create a world containing moral good without creating one containing moral evil.

3c. God created a world containing moral good.

Proposition 4. Evil exist follows logically from 1-3, 3b and 3c showing that Mackie’s claim that the existence of God and evil are in logical contradiction, is false. Simply put, Plantinga showed that:

a. God is omniscient, omnipotent, and wholly good.

b. God creates a world containing evil and has a good reason for doing so. (Plantinga 1974: 26)

After Plantinga’s case Mackie admitted and surrendered the logical problem of evil. He acknowledged,

[P]roblem of evil does not, after all, show that the central doctrines of theism are logically inconsistent with one another [… God] might not eliminate evils, even though it was logically possible to do so and though he was able to do whatever is logically possible, and was limited only by the logical impossibility of having the second-order good without the first-order evil. (Mackie 1982: 145)

William L. Rowe, in American Philosophy Quarterly, not only confessed but also pointed to Alvin Plantinga’s God, Freedom and Evil 1974 work p. 29-59. He wrote,

Some philosophers have contended that the existence of evil is logically inconsistent with the existence of the theistic God. No one, I think, has succeeded in establishing such an extravagant claim. Indeed, granted incompatibilism, there is a fairly compelling argument fro the view that the existence of evil is logically consistent with the existence of the theistic God. (Rowe 1979: 335 fn1)

Paul Draper, in a premier philosophy journal Noûs, also “agree[s] with most philosophers of religion that theists face no serious logical problem of evil”(Draper 1989: 349 fn1 )

William P. Alston declared that Plantinga “has established the possibility that God could not actualize a world containing free creatures that always do the right thing”(Alston 1991:49) and thus “it is now acknowledged on (almost) all sides that the logical argument is bankrupt, […]”(Alston 1996: 97)

Remarking Philo’s logical argument from evil echoed by Hume, Stephen J. Wystra, wrote,

In our day the work of Plantinga and others has made much clearer the import of such broadly logical constraints, making this talk by Philo (or, only a few decades ago, by Mackie) of ‘decisive disproof’ look like naïve bluster. (Wystra 1990: 158).

James Beebe, Peter van Inwagen and Robert M. Adams gave the same verdict that Plantinga succeeded in answering the logical problem of evil.

Standing against atheists’ and theists’ philosophers, a Christian philosopher Richard G. Swinburne does not agree that Plantinga killed the logical problem of evil’s beast. He wrote,

It seems to be generally agreed by atheists as well as theists that what is called ‘the logical problem of evil’ has been eliminated, and all that remains is ‘the evidential problem’. See e.g. Paul Draper, who writes that he ‘agrees with most philosophers of religion that theists face no serious logical problem of evil’ (‘Pain and Pleasure: An Evidential Problem for Theists’, Nous, 23 (1989), 331-50: 349). But whether that is so depends on what we understand by ‘the logical problem’. It has not been shown to the satisfaction of atheists that there is no valid deductive argument from the existence of certain evident bad states E (via some necessary moral truths) to the non-existence of God. It has been shown merely that there is no such valid deductive argument evident to theists, who dispute the validity of any such argument by disputing the necessity of the relevant purported necessary moral truths (Swinburne 1998: 20 fn. 13).

The swift in philosophy of religion literature’s focus from the logical problem of evil to the evidential problem of evil by both atheists and theists’ philosophers shows that Swinburne is incorrect. The logical problem of evil’s beast is dying a cold death in academia. Plantinga’s dagger went to deep.

Question: Can the logical problem of evil be rescued?

Previous: The Beast Rises: The Deductive Problem Of Evil

Bibliography:

Alston, William P. (1991) The Inductive Argument from Evil and the Human Cognitive Condition, in Philosophical Perspectives 6: 29-67. Reprinted in Howard-Snyder 1996.

________________ (1996) Reprint in Daniel Howard-Snyder, The Evidential Argument From Evil. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. 97-125.

Draper, Paul (1989) Pain and Pleasure: An Evidential Problem For Theists. In Noûs 23:331-350.

Hume, David (1779) Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. 2d ed. London.

Mackie, J. L (1971) “Evil and Omnipotence” in The Philosophy of Religion. ed. Basil Mitchell. Oxford University Press. Mackie’s case from Mind journal vol. 64 in 1955.

_______________ (1982) The Miracle of Theism. Oxford: Clarendon Press. See also p. 155

Plantinga, Alvin (1967) God and Other Minds: A Study of the Rational Justification of Belief in God. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

____________________(1974). God, Freedom and Evil. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Richard Swinburne (1998) Providence and the Problem of Evil Oxford University Press.

Rowe, William L. (1979) The Problem Of Evil And Some Varieties Of Atheism. In American Philosophical Quarterly Vol. 16. 4:335-341, October 1979

Stephen J. Wykstra (1990) The Humean Objection to Evidential Arguments from Suffering: On Avoiding the Evils of ‘Appearance’, International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 16 (1984), 73-93. Reprinted in (ed.) Marilyn M. & Robert M. Adams (1990), The Problem of Evil Oxford University Press. 138-60