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. Continue reading

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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

Eschatological Solution to the Problem of Pain and Suffering

Pain Pauls blog

The problem of pain and suffering is without doubt the most troubling paradox for Christians. How could a loving, maximally powerful and caring God allow his children to go through extreme and seemly meaningless pain and suffering? In times of suffering many Christians do, and correctly so I may add, find it difficult to imagine that God cares about their struggles. God appears to be as cold as ice itself and far from them as east is to the west. At those moments they rightly identify with Ivan Karamazov’s cry: “It’s not that I don’t accept God, you must understand, it’s the world created by Him I don’t and cannot accept”, in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s fictional novel, The Brothers Karamazov (Dostoevsky 2007, 257)

Early Christians underwent various trials and persecutions. Many paid their faithfulness with their own blood. What was it that made them stand tall and proud through such hard times? What was it that made them triumphantly walk into the valley of death without doubting the sovereignty of their loving God? As I explored their writings, I discovered one of their reasons. Their eschatological hope was what keep them going. It was their hope for the future glory at the second advent of their Lord and God. Their understanding of this future glory brought them hope. They considered all their present suffering not worthy compared to the joy and glory prepared for them (Rom. 8:18). 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.

On Behalf of Demea: Hume’s Problem of Evil

Pain Pauls blogEpicurus’ old questions are yet unanswered.” Said Philo, David Hume’s skeptical character, in Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779). “Is he [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?”(D 10.25)

In part 10 and 11 of the Dialogues, Hume explored the traditional problem of evil. He, quo Philo, argued that given the occurrence of pain and suffering, an omnicompetent Deity, believed by Cleanthes and Demea, cannot exist. The existence of instances of pain and suffering is logically incompatible with the existence of such a Deity.

Philo expounded more,

Why is there any misery at all in the world? Not by chance surely. From some cause then. Is it from the intention of the deity? But he is perfectly benevolent. Is it contrary to his intention? But he is almighty. Nothing can shake the solidity of this reasoning, so short, so clear, so decisive; except we assert, that these subjects exceed all human capacity, and that our common measures of truth and falsehood are not applicable to them (D 10.34)

Demea, Hume’s unbending and inflexible standard orthodox-theist character, offered a response to meet Epicurus’ old questions. This article explored Demea’s response and argued that it does shake the solidity of the classical problem of evil. Continue reading

Argumentum ad Malum

Suffering

“It’s not that I don’t accept God, you must understand,” said Ivan Karamazov, one of Fyodor Dostoevsky novel’s characters in The Brothers Karamazov, to his younger brother, Alyosha,  “it’s the world created by Him I don’t and cannot accept.”(Dostoevsky 2007, 257) The world created by God is overflowing with horrifying and repugnant evils. Ivan vividly captured some of the moral evil committed by the Turks and Circassians in Bulgaria:

They burn villages, murder, outrage women and children, they nail their prisoners by the ears to the fences, leave them so till morning, and in the morning they hang them — all sorts of things you can’t imagine. People talk sometimes of bestial cruelty, but that’s a great injustice and insult to the beasts; a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so artistically cruel. The tiger only tears and gnaws, that’s all he can do. He would never think of nailing people by the ears, even if he were able to do it. These Turks took a pleasure in torturing children, too; cutting the unborn child from the mothers womb, and tossing babies up in the air and catching them on the points of their bayonets before their mothers’ eyes. Doing it before the mothers’ eyes was what gave zest to the amusement. (2007, 260)

Evils such as these are morally abhorrent. It is painful to imagine that humans are capable of inflicting such inhumane deeds that are far worse than those of  mindless beasts. Arising in any morally sane person is  intuitive repulsive attitude towards such evils.

From such revulsion, atheists have argued that the existence of such evils is the problem for theists. Atheists have looked into the problem of evil’s abyss for far too long. Our intuitive revulsion toward such evils is the abyss looking back at them.  The queerness of our intuitive revulsion of such  evils from a naturalistic perspective is a problem for atheists.

In a naturalistic worldview, our intuitive revulsion toward such evils is nothing but social instincts acquired to aid the survivability of our species. The deeds Ivan mentioned, for example, are neither good nor evil because our species could have acquired different instincts to which such deeds were not intuitively repulsive (Darwin 1877, 99-100).

Repulsive Ivan’s Turks artistically deeds may sound, Richard Dawkins rightly argued from a naturalistic perspective that,

“nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent. This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous—indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.”(Dawkins 1995: 112)

Nature just is. “[Y]ou won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice” Dawkins correctly explained, since there is “at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”(149) We are intuitively revolted by such acts because it is of biological worth. Our intuitive revulsion to such evils, in naturalistic worldview, is illusory.

Darwin, Charles (1877) The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, Part One (Second edition 1989, revised and augmented ed) New York: New York University Press.

Dawkins, Richard (1995). River Out of Eden: A Darwin View of Life. Weidenfeld & Nicolson
The Orion Publishing Group

Dostoevsky, Fyodor (2007) The Karamazov Brothers. Wordsworth Editions Ltd. (First published in 1880)

C. S. Lewis & Omnipotent God

Blood

How far does God’s power extend? Is there any state of affair that an omnipotent God cannot bring about? These are the questions Christian theologians and philosophers have wrestled with throughout centuries.

God’s omnipotence prima facie appears to be challenged by the existence of pain and suffering in the world He created good. Was God not powerful enough to make sure that the creatures He created in His own image would not experience pain and suffering?

For C. S. Lewis existence of pain and suffering did not challenge God’s omnipotence as he once believed when he was a self-claimed atheist.  Pain and suffering is the result of mankind’s bad exercise of freedom of will endowed by God. Lewis contended:

God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go either wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. (2002, 47-48)

The reason God gave higher creatures free will is that it is  “the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having”(48) The world without free will creatures would indeed be free of pain and suffering, but it would also be a world without genuine “happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him[God] and to each other.”(ibid)

According to Lewis, it is logically impossible for God to create genuinely free creatures who freely choose to do the right acts only. Shadowing Augustine¹ and Thomas Aquinas², Lewis submitted “that not even Omnipotence could create a society of free souls without at the same time creating a relatively independent and “inexorable” nature.” (1996, 26) He understood omnipotence to encompass the power to bring about logical possible states of affair only. Lewis wrote,

It remains true that all things are possible with God: the intrinsic impossibilities are not things but nonentities. It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.”(ibid, 25)

He concluded that,

If you choose to say “God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it, “you have not succeeded in saying anything about god: meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two other words “God can”(ibid)

Rene Descartes would have disagree with Lewis. Descartes entertained the idea that our intellect is finite while God’s power is infinite, thus we cannot set bounds from our finite minds what God’s power can do. He wrote,

“I boldly assert that God can do everything which I conceive to be possible, but I am not so bold as to deny that he can do whatever conflicts with my understanding – I merely say that it involves a contradiction (LHM³ 241).

Descartes’ God, wrote Harry G. Frankfurt, is “a being for whom the logically impossible is possible.” (Frankfurt 1977, 44) God, for Descartes, is ex les. His power is beyond our reason and morality.  God, in this view, can bring about any state of affairs. If this is true, then contrary to Lewis, God could have created higher creatures with free will that freely and voluntarily choose the right things only.

The problem, with adopting Cartesian absolute power of God that could even bring about logical impossible states of affair, is that the problem of pain and suffering disappears with it. If God can bring about logical impossible states of affair, then it would follow that God could bring about what atheologians believe to be logically impossible, namely the coexistence of pain and suffering and omnicompetent and benevolent God.

Previous: C. S. Lewis & The Problem of Evil


[1] De Symbolo, I.i & De Civitate, V. x

[2] Summa I, Q. xxv, a. 3

[3] Rene Descartes’ letter to Henry More, 5 February 1549 in trans, and ed. Anthony Kenny(1970) Descartes Philosophical Letters. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Bib.

Frankfurt, Harry G. (1977)  “Descartes and the Creation of the Eternal Truths,” Philosophical Review 86 No. 1: 36-57

Lewis, C. S. (1996) The Problem of Pain. New York: Simon & Schuster.

____________ (2002) Mere Christianity. HarperCollins Publishers.