Hume’s Unnoticed Theodicy

David Hume

The intelligent author of nature’s attribute of benevolence, argued David Hume in Fragment on evil, could be proven by the effect of good prevailing much above evil. If good prevails much above evil, according to Hume, the author of nature could be said to be benevolent. If evil prevails much above good, then the intelligent author of nature could not be said to be benevolent.

Acknowledging his inability of determining with any certitude that evil prevails much above the good, Hume nonetheless found himself more inclined to the idea that “evil predominates in the world, and [he] apt to regard human life as a scene of misery, according to the sentiments of the greatest sages as well as of the generality of mankind, from the beginning of the world to his day” (Hume 2007, 111) He continued,

Were evil predominant in the world, there would evidently remain no proofs of benevolence in the supreme being. But even if good be predominate; since it prevails in so small a degree, and is counter balanced by so many ills; it can never afford any proof of that attribute.(ibid 111-112)

Qua Philo, in the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Hume presented a rich version of the problem of evil. The apparently extent of pain and suffering in the world, both as a result of moral agents and blind forces of nature, according to Hume, makes the idea of a benevolence deity who care about his creation difficult to accept. (Hume 1947, 198)

Hume qua Demea offered a theodicy that could rescue the benevolence attribute of intelligent author. Demea argued,

This life but a moment in comparison of eternity. The present evil phenomena, therefore, are rectified in other regions, and in some future period of existence. And the eyes of men, being then opened to larger views of things, see the whole connection of general laws, and trace, with adoration, the benevolence and rectitude of the deity, through all the mazes and intricacies of his providence.(ibid 200)

But qua Cleanthes, he tore down this theodicy as “arbitrary suppositions”, and “conjectures and fictions” whose reality cannot be proven. Rejecting the belief in God of standard theism, a benevolent author of the universe, Hume nonetheless believed in a deity of limited theism:

The whole frame of nature bespeaks an intelligent author; and no rational enquirer can, after serious reflection, suspend his belief a moment with regard to the primary principles of genuine Theism and Religion. (Hume 1964, 309)

In book III of The Natural History of Religion Hume provided, if I understood him correctly, a theodicy for a limited theistic deity whose providence “appears not immediately in any operation, but governs everything by those general and immutable laws, which have been establish from beginning of time”1(Hume 1985, 581). He contended,

Any of the human affections may lead us into the notion of invisible, intelligent power; hope as well as fear, gratitude as well as affliction: But if we examine our own hearts, or observe what passes around us, we shall find, that men are much oftener thrown on their knees by the melancholy than by the agreeable passions. Prosperity is easily received as our due, and few questions are asked concerning its cause or author. It begets cheerfulness and activity and alacrity and a lively enjoyment of every social and sensual pleasure: And during this state of mind, men have little leisure or inclination to think of the unknown invisible regions. On the other hand, every disastrous accident alarms us, and sets us on enquiries concerning the principles whence it arose: Apprehensions spring up with regard to futurity: And the mind, sunk into diffidence, terror, and melancholy, has recourse to every method of appeasing those secret intelligent powers, on whom our fortune is supposed entirely to depend. (Hume 2007, 129)

Hume’s theodicy, thus, is that pain and suffering, unlike leisure and prosperity, lead man to probe the nature of intelligent creator.

Next: Critique of Hume’s Deistic Theodicy

Bibliography:

Hume, David (1947) Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. Norman Kemp Smith (2nd ed.) Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.

____________ (1964) Natural History of Religion, in Green & Grose ed. The Philosophical. 4th vol. Dannstadt.

____________ (1985) Essay, Moral, Political, and Literary. E. F. Miller (Ed.)  Indianapolis: Liberty Classics Pub.

____________ (2007) Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion And Other Writings. Dorothy Coleman (Ed.) Cambridge University Press.


[1] In his essay titled ”Of Suicide”

David Hume: Philosophy and Atheism

David Hume

A little philosophy, says lord BACON, makes men atheists: A great deal reconciles them to religion. For men, being taught, by superstitious prejudices, to lay the stress on a wrong place; when that fails them, and they discover, by a little reflection, that the course of nature is regular and uniform, their whole faith totters, and falls to ruin. But being taught, by more reflection, that this very regularity and uniformity is the strongest proof of design and of a supreme intelligence, they return to that belief, which they had deserted; and they are now able to establish it on a firmer and more durable foundation.

– David Hume, (NHR 4:329, Hume’s emphasis)

Cited: Natural History of Religion, in The Philosophical Works,ed. T .H. Green and T. H. Grose, 4 vols. (Dannstadt, 1964)

Gnosticism: Concise Introduction For Skeptics

Burne-Jones Edward Mirror of Venus

A first three centuries A.D. diverse religious and theosophical movement, which sponged some of Platonic Philosophy, Zoroastrianism, Judaism and Christianity traditions together. An gnostic held an “ontological dualism between the supreme, ineffable God of love and the material world, considered evil or, at best, indifferent.”(Myers 1987, 421)

A gnostic  believed that though she was imprisoned in the body, which is evil, she possessed a divine pneúma and can be set free through mediate, divine savior, by means of gnosis, a mystical knowledge of true seeing and hearing, to ascend to a state known as Pleroma.

“The focus of Gnostic redemption is not on God”, explained A.C. Myers, “but ultimately upon the individual’s self-understanding and the resulting freedom it provides.”(ibid: 421). Myer noted that many Gnostics tracked their teaching back to Christ Jesus’ secret teaching but “Gnostic christologies offer a savior without the incarnation (a Christ-spirit) who gives knowledge instead of calling for faith (cf. Mark 12:14; Gal. 2:16).”(ibid, 422)

Nicholas Perrin pointed out that “[f]or Gnosticism, existentialism, and deconstructionism alike, salvation/knowledge is obtained individualistically, quite apart from the mediation of communal interpretations and structures”(Perrin 2005, 258) He contended that by “the end of the second century, the church fathers (and rabbis) were eager to refute Gnostic claims.” because virtually every aspect of Gnostic teaching “stood at odds with emerging orthodoxy.”(ibid, 258)

Bibliography:

Myers, A. C. (1987). The Eerdmans Bible dictionary (421). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.

Perrin, Nicholas(2005): “Gnosticism” in Vanhoozer, K. J., Bartholomew, C. G., Treier, D. J., & Wright, N. T. Dictionary for theological interpretation of the Bible. London; Grand Rapids, MI.: SPCK; Baker Academic.

Matthews & Baker’s Simplified Ontological Argument

Thinking

Gareth B. Matthews and Lynne Rudder Baker explained that Anselm’s ontological argument continues to fascinate philosophers as it still finds sophisticated defenders and critics.  Matthews and Baker offered a dialogue-form version to restore the simplicity they believe is ignored or misrepresented of Anselm’s argument.

They offered a simplified argument as follows:

Anselm: (in prayer) You, O God, are something than which nothing greater can be conceived.

Fool: (i.e. atheist, who has overheard Anselm’s prayer) God is just an object of the imagination.

Anselm: So you agree that the something than which nothing greater can be conceived is at least an object of the imagination; it is therefore something conceivable.

Fool: All right, it is conceivable. But it isn’t real. It has been conceived to provide an ideal object of worship. It doesn’t exist in reality.

Anselm: Would it be greater to have unmediated causal powers than it would be to have only mediated causal powers?

Fool: Of course it would be greater to have unmediated causal powers; but God doesn’t have any. Being just an idea made up to provide, as I have just said, an appropriate object of worship, God has only mediated causal powers, that is, powers through the believers in God. They do all sorts of things in the belief that they are fulfilling God’s will. However, in and of himself, God has no causal powers whatsoever.

Anselm: So, according to you, something than which nothing greater can be conceived is only an idea in people’s minds and therefore has only mediated causal powers.

Fool: You got it right.

Anselm: But then a greater than God can be conceived, namely, something than which nothing greater can be conceived that actually has unmediated causal powers. According to you, something than which nothing greater can be conceived, by having only mediated causal powers, is something than which a greater can be conceived. By contradicting yourself in this way you have offered an indirect proof, that is, a reductio ad absurdum, that God, i.e. something than which nothing greater can be conceived, actually exists. (Matthews & Baker 2010, 211 )

What is your thoughts on Matthews & Baker’s simplified ontological argument?

Bibliography:

Matthews, Gareth B. &  Baker, Lynne Rudder (2010) The ontological argument simplified. Analysis Vol 70 | Number 2 | April 2010 | pp. 210–212 doi:10.1093/analys/anp164  © The Authors 2009. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Analysis Trust.

Jehovah’s Witnesses & Eisegesis of Revelation 3:14

Watchtower

Watchtower Society teaches Jehovah’s Witnesses that Jesus is not Jehovah God. Only the Father is Jehovah God. Concurring that Logos, was “existing in God’s form”(Philippians 5:5-11) the Society expounded its Christology as follows,

He [prehumen Jesus] was a spirit person, just as “God is a Spirit”; he was a mighty one, although not almighty as Jehovah God is; also he was before all others of God’s creatures, for he was the first son that Jehovah God brought forth. Hence he is called “the only begotten Son” of God, for God had no partner in bringing forth his first-begotten Son. He was the first of Jehovah God’s creations. He speaks so of himself, at Revelation (or Apocalypse) 3:14: “These are the things the Amen says, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation by God.” (NW) (Watchtower 1952, 32)

Is it true that prehumen Jesus being “the beginning of the creation by God”(NW emp. added) means that He was the first of Jehovah God’s creations? This post aimed to show that the Society is not warranted in reading their presupposed theology into Revelation 3:14.

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the word “beginning” (Gk. αρχη, G794 archē) in Revelation 3:14 η αρχη της κτισεως του Θεου (the beginning of the creation of God) indicate that prehumen Jesus was brought forth as the first of Jehovah God’s (who is the Father) invisible creations.

Archē, contended the Society, “cannot rightly be interpreted to mean that Jesus was the ‘beginner’ of God’s creation.”(1989, 14) John is said to have used various forms of archē, “more than 20 times, and these always have the common meaning of “beginning.””(ibid) Is this true? Yes and no.

No. John used archē synonymously with alpha(G1) and prōtos (first Gk. πρῶτος  G4413) in Revelation 22:13 “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning[archē] and the end”(ESV) as titles applied to God. Josephus also applied archē  to God when he wrote,

The first command is concerning God, and affirms that God contains all things, and is a being every way perfect and happy, self-sufficient, and supplying all other beings; the beginning [ἀρχή], the middle, and the end of all things (Against Apion 2.190)

Josephus viewed God as the beginning of all things. Unquestionably he did not understood archē to mean that God had a beginning. In this sense, it is possible, contrary to the Society, to rightly translate archē ho theos ho ktisis in Revelation 3:14 as ruler or authority of creation of God (cf Luke 20:20 1 Co. 15:24) Following this path is HCSB translating Originator of God’s creation and NIV, the ruler of God’s creation.

Though it is possible to translate Jesus as ruler or origin of God’s creation, it is more plausible that John used archē as beginning in sense of time, but not as the Society supposed, namely the beginning of the original creation, but the new creation. Revelation 3:14 read with 1:15’s πρωτότοκος (firstborn) and ἄρχων (ruler) in view, viz., Jesus is “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth”(ESV emp. added) indicate that Jesus is the beginning of the new heaven and new earth.

Furthermore prehumen Jesus cannot be the first of Jehovah God’s creations in the sense that He was created because He claimed the title of eternality, the first and the last. (Rev. 1:17 cf. Isa. 44:6; 48:12)

The Society, thus, is not warranted to read their theology of a created prehumen Jesus into Revelation 3:14, since as Josephus, the beginning of the creation does not necessarily convey the meaning of beginning to exist, but lordship and that Revelation 3:14 is plausibly understood as beginning of the new creation.

Bibliography:

Watchtower (1952) Let God Be True. 2nd Ed. Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, Inc. International Bible Students Association. Brooklyn, NY.

_________________ (1989) Should You Believe in the Trinity? Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, Inc. International Bible Students Association. Brooklyn, NY.

Human’s Responsibility in God’s Theatre

Behold The Man

Until I read Genesis 20:4-6, Paul conclusion in Philippians 2:12-13 had continuously baffled me. Commending unity that can only be achieved through humility in the church in Philippi, Paul asked Philippians to learn not to do anything out of selfish ambition, but in humility consider others more significant.

Making his point clearer, Paul beseeched the Philippians to follow Christ Jesus’ example. According to Paul, Jesus was in the form of God, but did not hold to his majesty. In humbleness and for the sake of those who God called and draw to him, emptied himself taking the form of a human being, and went even further through  a hideous death and rose to glory for their sake. (2:1-11)

From that, Paul concluded that Philippians, in his absence, were to “work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in [them], both to will and to work for his good pleasure”(2:12b-13 ESV) doing all things without grumbling or disputing.

How was it possible for Philippians to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling, if it is God who works in them both to will and work for God’s own good pleasure? If God works in them to will and work, how then are Philippians said to will and to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling? Does not God’s working in Philippians’ will and work somehow negate Philippians responsibility to work out their own salvation?

In a theatrical account of Abimelech, Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 20 my bafflement like a vapor disappeared. In this account, Abraham found himself in the Egypt-like déjà vu (Gen. 12:10-20) where because of his wife’s dazzling beauty, his life was in danger. In fear that men without fear of God will kill him to have her, Abraham said, for the second time, that his wife was his sister. Abimelech king of Gerar took Sarah but did not sleep with her.  The drama then unfolds:

But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people? Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her. (v3-6 ESV)

God recognized that Abimelech did not sleep with Sarah in integrity of his heart and clarified that Abimelech’s will and working out not to lay with Sarah was so because He worked in him, namely God kept Abimelech from sinning against Him. God did not let Abimelech sleep with his new mistress Sarah.

Philippians, like Abimelech, are called to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling, yet it is God who works in their willing and working for His own good pleasure. The working out of salvation with fear and trembling is possible because they are in God’s theatre.

Omnipotent God and The Paradox of the Stone

Paradox

The concept of an omnipotent being, namely a being with maximal perfection with respect to power, is sometimes believed to involve a contradiction. The most popular reductio ad absurdum case against the existence of omnipotent being is known as “the paradox of the stone.”

The paradox unfolds as follows:

1. If God exists, then He is omnipotent
2. If God is omnipotent then God can create a stone too heavy for anyone to lift.
3. If God can create a stone too heavy for anyone to lift, then God is not omnipotent since He cannot lift the stone He created.
4. If God cannot create a stone too heavy for anyone to lift, then God is not omnipotent since He cannot create the stone too heavy for anyone to lift.
5. Either way God is not omnipotent.
6. Therefore God does not exist.

Since a person offering this case “is assuming throughout that if there is something specifiable that God cannot do, it follows that he lacks omnipotence” as Thomas V. Morris (1991, 73) correctly observed, clarification of the terms used would help show how weak and unsound this case is.

What do we mean by “a being Y can do x ”? According to Morris, we can mean either ability, Y is “ able to do x” or capability, Y is “capable of doing x”. Our questions, should be then, does it necessary mean that Y lacks power to do x, if Y cannot do x? Soundly no. Y might have the power to do x but lack reasons or will or skills or opportunity et cetera to do x. Does it necessary then mean that Y lacks power to do x, if Y is not capable of doing x. Soundly no again, since Y might have the power to do x but lacks moral justification to do x.

Borrowing Morris’ example, God could indeed create a small stone that no one could lift, by simply making the stone impossible to be lifted by any other beings and vow himself not to lift it. Since God is morally perfect, He cannot break His vow not to lift the stone, thus add himself to a group of all other beings that cannot lift that stone. We can say, in this state of affair, that God cannot lift the stone, but not because of lack of power but of the promise that a perfect being cannot break.

Michael Tooley’s Solution: Atheist Philosopher’s Critique

Tooley deemed this paradox of omnipotence argument as “clearly unsound”. He contended,

[T]his[unsoundness of the case] can be seen if one simply makes explicit the times at which the being acts, or possesses some property. For suppose A is omnipotent at a specific time t1. Then A can act at that time to bring it about that there is a rock that no one can lift. But at what time does the latter state of affairs first exist? It cannot be time t1, since, I would argue, a cause cannot be simultaneous with its effect. So let us suppose that A acts at time t1 to bring it about that there is, at some later time t2, a rock that no one can lift. It then follows that A either no longer exists at time t2, or does exist at time t2, but is no longer omnipotent. So to bring it about that there is a rock that no one can lift—including himself—an omnipotent being must either commit suicide, or at least bring it about that he is no longer omnipotent at the relevant time. This is not, presumably, something that a sensible person—let alone a morally perfect one—would be likely to do. But there is no contradiction in the proposition that A, who is omnipotent at time t1, either does not exist at some later time t2, or else exists at that time, but is not omnipotent. Accordingly, there is no paradox of omnipotence.(Plantinga & Tooley 2008, 87)

Tooley’s solution is of no use to theists, since they believe God, if exists, is a being that none greater can be conceived. Omnipotence and necessarily existence in all possible worlds is a greatness making properties that a being none greater can be conceived must possess. Is there a possible solution that both atheists and theists would accept?

Thomas V. Morris’ Solution: Theist Philosopher’s Critique

Morris offers two solutions, which I find compelling. Probing what kind of stone is a defender of this case asking an omnipotent God to create that He cannot lift, Morris contended,

But what would such a stone be like? What, for example, would it weigh? If God is omnipotent, then, presumably, he can create stones of any possible weigh? But if he is omnipotent, then, presumably as well, for any possible weight n, he can lift stones of weight n. Realizing this has led some philosophers to one of the simplest solutions which has been offered to the stone paradox. They have just claimed that ‘creating a stone which even an omnipotent being can’t lift,’ and all its analytical equivalents, is just an incoherent act-description. And since the phrase ‘the power to create a stone which even an omnipotent being can’t lift’ does not designate a logically possible power, it does not follow from the fact that God cannot create such
 a stone that God lacks any power required for omnipotence, or that he lacks in any other respect. This solution maintains that the proper answer to our original question is no, but that does not cause any problems for the ascription of omnipotence to God. (Morris 1991, 74)

What if the defender of this case keep insisting that God creating a stone too heavy to be lifted is a logical possibility. Is it possible that God can create such stone and still be omnipotent? Yes. Morris again argued that it still would not follow that God lacks the power to lift such stone. God could simply vow not to lift the stone, thus it would not be because of inability to lift the stone but moral incapability that God cannot lift that stone. “Thus, lacking a power to lift S[stone] is not lacking a possible power, a power possible to have, and so no such lack would detract from God’s being omnipotent.(ibid 75)

Morris awesomely concluded:

If we choose to say that God cannot create a stone he can’t lift, we can block the inference to his lacking omnipotence and explain the apparent divine inability by characterizing the act-description here as incoherent. If we choose to say that he can create such a stone which, once created, he cannot lift, we can block the inference to his lacking omnipotence by explaining that the subsequent inability to lift cannot be thought of as reflecting the lack of any power it is possible to have. But by either strategy the claim of omnipotence for God is defended.”(ibid 76)

Question: Are you persuaded by the Paradox of the Stone as case against omnipotent God?

Bibliography:

Plantinga, Alvin & Tooley, Michael (2008) Knowledge of God. Blackwell Publishing.

Morris, Thomas V. (1991) Our Idea of God: An Introduction to Philosophical Theology. InterVarsity Press.

Cover Paint: Paradox 1 (2005) by Robert Pepperell, Oil on panel, 46cm x 60cm