Friday, October 22, 2010

Harlan Ellison’s evil god

Suppose the omnipotent, omniscient, and supremely malevolent intelligence of Stephen Law’s “evil god challenge” really existed. What would the world look like? Like the actual world? A much more plausible answer is provided by Harlan Ellison’s classic short story “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” one of the most chilling pieces of fiction you’ll ever read. Law’s challenge is irrelevant to classical theism, but perhaps the theistic personalist could made hay out of Ellison’s scenario.


Crude said...

Ed, if ever you get the time and inclination you should do a review of Hawking's "The Grand Design". He gets into philosophy while declaring it dead, and his "model-dependent realism" would.. actually, I'm not sure what you'd think of it. Something negative, probably. A quote:

"According to the idea of model-dependent realism …, our brains interpret the input from our sensory organs by making a model of the outside world. We form mental concepts of our home, trees, other people, the electricity that flows from wall sockets, atoms, molecules, and other universes. These mental concepts are the only reality we can know. There is no model-independent test of reality. It follows that a well-constructed model creates a reality of its own."

C'mon, tell me you don't want to sink your teeth into that!

As for the evil god challenge, I suppose there's always Darkseid.

Edward Feser said...

Hi Crude,

As it happens, I've got a review of The Grand Design coming out soon in National Review, which is why I haven't yet said anything about the book on the blog. I'll wait until it appears before commenting further.

Crude said...

Really! I'll have to actually pick up that issue then. (I'm more of an The American Conservative type.)


Anonymous said...

What gets me most about Law's article, silly as this may sound, is his assessment of St. Anselm's "that than which nothing greater can be conceived" argument. Even if you don't agree with it, Anselm's argument is really, really good, whereas Law's parody looks like it was dashed off without a second thought.

Anonymous said...

So, when can we expect to see your National Review article?

Steven said...

Dr Feser,

What do you think of Law's suggestion that an evil-theist could respond by offering "reverse theodicies"?

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

And, Mr Ed, what do you think of an etherealist offering reverse time-dilation theories?

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

BTW, I wasn't trying to be snide. Just offering some analogical parallels as food for thought.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Okay, yeah, that's a pretty horrid SF story.

Crude said...

As for Law and 'evil god theodicies', I admit my main thought is that at the very least someone could give it a shot. And I really suspect that if nothing else, an evil god argument would be vastly more compelling than atheism.

Mr Veale said...

Is it spiritually safe to read this story?
If it makes reference to the demonic, or if it leaves the reader with a sense of despondency, it would best be avoided.

If it resembles HP Lovecraft in any way, I'd be better off not knowing it existed.


Mr Veale said...

In any case, it is essential to Swinburne's evidentialism that objective values exist, and that God is essentially Good.(To be more accurate, God's essential goodness follows from omniscience, omnipotence, and the existence of objective value).

And if God is "the Greatest Being" that we can conceive, as Plantinga and van Inwagen would contend, then God's essential goodness follows.

So I don't think that the "Evil God" hypothesis should bother the "Theistic Personalist" any more than a "cockroach God"

Mr Veale said...

If you want to worry about an alternative hypothesis to a Good God, worry about Hume's Hypothesis of a morally indifferent God. (In the 'Dilaogues')

"If we consider…the perfect uniformity and agreement of the parts of the universe,
we shall not discover in it any marks of the combat of a malevolent with a benevolent
being. There is indeed an opposition of pains and pleasures in the feelings of sensible
creatures; but are not all the operations of nature carried on by an opposition of principles, of hot and cold, moist and dry, light and heavy? The true conclusion is that the original Source of all things is entirely indifferent to all these principles, and has no more regard to good above ill than to heat above cold, or to drought above moisture, or to light above heavy. (211–212)

Anonymous said...

How about a review for Sam Harris's book The Moral Landscape

Mr Veale said...

I just re-read my posts. I hope that I don't sound dismissive or preachy!

PatrickH said...

Ellison's story is "chilling", I suppose, but it is also deeply Christian. The hero/victim defeats the evil god AI by an act of unconditional self-sacrifice. He is able to kill and therefore liberate the other denizens of AI's hell world, because AI, being evil, simply cannot grasp that anyone would do such a thing. AI suffers the kind of blindness of Sauron, who simply could not grasp that anyone in possession of the Ring would choose to destroy it rather than claim it and use it against him.

The terrible heart-wrenching ending of the story is simply AI's attempt to punish the man, who by an act of Love, defeated him utterly.

So even if the universe was run by an evil god, Ellison is suggesting there is something deeper and truer...Love.

Since Christians believe that the Lord of this World is an "evil God", defeated by a man who gave himself up in sacrifice, permanently defeating the Prince of this place, I think they should look at "I have no mouth..." as a story, that despite its horror, has a kind of happy ending.

After all, don't they view the story of the Passion as being a story of a happy ending purchased at great (and eternal) cost by a great suffering Hero?

Mr Veale said...

Okay,now I DO want to sound preachy!
"Love" saves the world by annihilating a race. So the closest thing we can get to redemption is non-existence.
Then "love" is punished endlessly.

Those ideas are, frankly, evil.

They are at best horrible.

They are at worst blasphemous.

So this story gets labelled "I'd be better off not knowing it existed."

Now we either take evil seriously or we don't. We either take God seriously or we don't. We either take love seriously or we don't.

Love doesn't delight in evil, it rejoices in the truth.
So we don't flirt with evil ideas, not even as an academic exercise.
And we don't risk offending God.


Because, if we do offend God, it will not be an analogy that we are offending.

And, for pities sake, what do we gain on an academic level by considering this story. Beyond considering the proposition.."our world does not contain endless torture?"

Mr Veale said...

Can I make it clear that I hold Dr Feser in the highest esteem, have read this blog for well over a year and love his teaching on Philosophy of Mind. (It's absolutely wonderful - perfectly clear, and compelling, and persuasive).I am looking forward to his review of Hawking.

And "The Last Superstition" is on my Amazon wish list, and it'll stay there!

And, frankly, Law isn't remotely in Dr Feser's league. He's a bit silly when it comes to Phil of Religion.

I just have a very strong conviction that there are thoughts that a Christian should not entertain, not even for the sake of academic discussion.

George R. said...


That's a great quote from Hawking. You can thank Descartes and Kant for that kind of insanity. "Realism"? That's a good one. It is, rather, the death of realism. It is nothing but an inane, solipsistic subjectivism.

Anonymous said...

Sam Harris' latest book is an abomination. Its thesis is that science can determine moral values.

Crude said...

For those talking about Harris, I think Michael Ruse's essay is of interest. Ruse being an atheist, of course.

TheOFloinn said...

Regarding Hawking:

BenYachov said...

Well on a certain level I can sympathize with Me. Veale's trepidation. The story isn't all that uplifting and BTW it bears no resemblance to the horror of Lovecraft in my opinion. Lovecraft had little use for human feelings or concerns. The point of his fiction was humanity didn't matter and that was the horror.

I might have been better off not knowing about this tale. No story that portrays evil having the omnipotent power to damn the innocent or the just is worth anything. OTOH this story is only possible in a purely materialistic universe where human minds are at best "emerging properties" and having a what is known as a Hard AI is possible. I don't believe we will ever create a conscious computer. I don't believe in a materialistic universe. So as far as I am concerned it's nothing too me. When I think about it on that level the horror fades.

Ironically Asimov once wrote a story about "God" keeping a soul alive for all eternity to think for Him. The soul doesn't want to live forever in this state &vows to think of a way to kill itself. "God" then tells that soul if he does that he will bring him back & eliminate the means to metaphysical suicide. So then the soul thinks "I will think of a way to kill you then". To which "God" tells him to go for it. Then end of the story implies "God" is trying to find a way to end it all to spare himself the "horror" of eternal boring existence.

I sense a pattern among certain Atheists.

Thoughts people?

Crude said...

Well, I've seen patterns here and there (usually inconsistencies), but a long time ago I devised a very simple method for drawing out some interesting revelations from atheists and theists like.

Just ask, "If God did exist and was here, what would you say to Him?"

So far, every atheist in memory I've asked this to has had nothing but fury in mind for a response. (I'm sure some could buck the trend, especially if they find out there is in fact a trend.)

Of course, that just backs up the evil god versus atheism weighting to me. Maybe someone should pick up Law's ball and run with it - compare the theories, see how they fare. Atheism faring poorly against classical theism and even normal theistic personalism is one thing. Failing against Cthulhu? That would be a riot.

Mr Veale said...


I read that Asimov story as a teenager. It is interesting that Asimov wanted to trivialise omnipotence and omniscience in several stories. As you say, he wanted to suggest that these could be emergent properties.He seemed to be in earnest.

And this pseudo-metaphysical tosh is dressed up as "SCIENCE fiction". Which makes it sound much more plausible.

But, yes, an attempt to domesticate or trivialise God is definitely at work.

(Ellison just seems to hate humans even more than he hates God. That's a story about the triumph of hate, and evil. Utterly horrible.)

Mr Veale said...

Oh, and it's "Graham".

'Mr Veale' comes up as I'm a High School teacher (Religious Education, in Northern Ireland) and I've set up blogs for more able students in the past.

Crude said...

It is interesting that Asimov wanted to trivialise omnipotence and omniscience in several stories. As you say, he wanted to suggest that these could be emergent properties.He seemed to be in earnest.

I would think that any atheist who would seriously suggest that omniscience or omnipotence 'could be emergent properties' is a hair away from abandoning atheism for some strange form of theism. I refer to David Deutsch and Frank Tipler's talk of an 'omega point' in the universe. Tipler regarded and regards this point as God. Deutsch disagreed on technicality points.

With every passing day, I am more and more convinced that the number of actual atheists is fewer than suspected. And that there are more pagans than we care to realize.

Jinzang said...

Writers are allowed to imagine situations they fervently wish wouldn't happen in order to draw lessons from them. Like a son killing his father and marrying his mother. I recall Aristotle writing something on the subject.

All I can say, Mr. Veale, is that I will not be taking reading suggestions from you.

Anonymous said...

Harris's premise is completely hilarious.
He is actually saying that you can get an ought from an is.
It honestly blows my mind.
He contends that you can draw moral prescriptions from evidential descriptions.

You know when you're on a forum and there seems to be someone playing "the dumb atheist" to make it see like atheists are stupid because this one guy playing the role is just pouring it on? That's how Harris comes across with his position/argument.

Anonymous said...

Anon: Yeah, because only idiots think you can get an ought from an is.

I'm not trying to vindicate Harris here, but "you can't get normative conclusions from descriptive premises!" is more an example of soundbite and superstition than serious philosophy. And it certainly ain't axiomatic.

Timmy the Anon said...

Hi Anon,
I'm the Anon you were replying to.

I have to admit - I'm not familiar with the distinction of "classic theism".
But from what I've been reading on this blog classical theism is very different from the theism that I'm familiar with.
Also, reading Feser's articles on nature and essence I'm kind of seeing how a classical theist might not have a problem with Harris's position.
Because Harris's view is very much saying that based off of the nature of somethings they should be treated a certain way.
Reading the classical theist position and Harris's position I have to admit, that Harris might unknowingly be putting himself into an Aristotelian camp with his argument.
Certainly not what he intended on doing.

Crude said...

Timmy the Anon,

Honestly, that's not the first time I've heard that observation - and it's worth noting that a lot of atheists were spooked severely by Harris' claim. And I recall a couple bright Aristotileans pointed out that if Harris wants to claim that there really are moral 'oughts' in nature and that they can be deduced, well then.. they're more than happy to indulge him.

I think the excitement among some of his fans is that they think they already know just what morality 'science' will uncover, and they agree with it already.

Mr Veale said...


Of course you must form your own judgements. And I am not saying that we should not discuss evil, or reflect on it.

I am saying that we should be very wary. I have been given a direct command - an order - to be as innocent as a dove.

Of course, I also need to be as wise as a viper.

Getting the balance right is a difficult're right if that's your concern.

If your concern is freedom of thought, or expression, then we part paths on this point. But hopefully, in good humour. Life's tricky enough without strangers exchanging harsh words needlessly.

And, once again, to disagree with Dr Feser on one short story in no way diminishes my respect for him, and it won't stop me enjoying his blog. (He has a tremendous gift to make philosophy clear and accessible, and that demonstrates tremendous understanding on his part. And a good deal of charity in making his thoughts available!)


Anonymous said...

Where exactly is Harris saying that moral facts can be ascertained from observational facts?? This sounds like something a theist might confuse in reading his work. I don't focus too much on Harris....but he is much more reputable than he will get credit for on a forum like this. And I will stand behind the claim that Harris would not make a statement holding that moral facts are simply scientific facts. Come on guys, he's studied philosophy. Let's not practice the least gracious interpretation fallacy.

BenYachov said...

To clarify I don't think Asimov believed God's mind was an "emergent property". I don't think he was that sophisticated philosophically. But most Atheists are materialists and they see the world in purely material terms. So infinite life in this existence is Hell too them even if it's pleasant. See the movie ZARDOZ for details.

BenYachov said...

Of course in the Ellison story, it would have been an awesome improvement if at the ending an Angel came to the hero/victim and gave him the Beatific Vision & left him otherwise unchanged. IF I believe THE FOUR LAST THINGS by Tan books & Publishers then it is possible to endure every other torment and pain in Hell if one has the Beatific Vision. Indeed you would not heed your suffering. Also a Heaven where God took the Beatific Vision from the faithful but left every other reward, bliss, and pleasure would be as Hell to them(like Zardoz). Thus I have come to firmly believe that pain is not the same as suffering.

Anonymous said...

"...pain is not the same as suffering."

On your view, do any instances of pain qualify as instances of suffering?

Mr Veale said...


O, I agree. I'd be astonished if Asimov believed God-like properties could be instantiated in any instance.

And I doubt that he thought in philosophical terms.

But I do think that you caught on to a theme in a lot of Science Fantasy - the attempt to capture God in pseudo-scientific terms.

Maybe it's evidence of a naive scientism. That even if we encountered a miracle, or an angel, or God himself, Science would be able to explain the phenomenon in scientific terms.
It's all very childish and whimsical. A sort of wishful thinking..."there's no need to be afraid of God. We can explain him. We have the technology."

Anonymous said...

Harris has not studied philosophy, and certainly not moral philosophy, because he thinks Science is the one true means of discovering everything that can be discovered.

And why oh why does everyone assume that the "fact/value" distinction is so darn sacrosanct? We would do philosophy a great favor if we stopped acting as if it were some Divinely inspired truth and started treating it like the ungrounded dogma that it is.

Anonymous said...

Off topic, but did Aquinas really say the following:

heretics "deserve not only to be separated from the church by excommunication, but also to be severed from the world by death."

Crude said...

Harris has not studied philosophy, and certainly not moral philosophy, because he thinks Science is the one true means of discovering everything that can be discovered.

Actually, Harris has studied philosophy formally (I believe he has a BA in philosophy). The problem is that studying it - even getting a PhD in it - is no guarantee you know what you're talking about. Yes, sometimes full-fledged philosophers make horrible or inane arguments. With Harris it just happens to be more obvious that he's out of his depth, and the fallout from it is more amusing.

As for the question of instantiating God-like properties materially, look towards the transhumanists. If anyone entertains the idea, they do.

Brandon said...

Anonymous @7:39AM:

You're welcome to find a different interpretation of any of Harris's recent articles and essays on the subject; they're generally quite short and readable.

BenYachov said...

>On your view, do any instances of pain qualify as instances of suffering?

I reply: Well when I was a few days old I was circumcised & if I believe my Mother I screamed "bloody murder" (her words). But I have no memory of it so how could I have suffered? As a new born infant my intellective powers were non-existent. Thus I see no reason to believe I was really conscious of my pain & thus how could I be said to be suffering?

OTOH if one wants a preternatural example. I have three children with Autism. If something like a "Magical Baseball Bat" existed that had the power to cure people of autism by using it to club their Father in the head I would yearn for the headache! I would prefer that pain to the suffering of worrying about my kids & their condition.

Suffering & pain are related strongly, but I no longer believe they are the same.

BenYachov said...

>heretics "deserve not only to be separated from the church by excommunication, but also to be severed from the world by death."

I reply: Why would that be a problem? Saying someone "deserves to die" is not the same as saying "you may murder them at will".

Aquinas taught that it was moral for the State to put certain heretics to death. The Church can only offer mercy to a heretic. But back in that day promoting heresy was seen as murdering the soul and a threat to society. Vatican II corrected certain views of Aquinas & clarified them. Ironically I get the impression Harris supports Aquinas view in principle that certain views are harmful & can only be met with State coercion.

BenYachov said...

Did Sam Harris say the following?

“under the protective umbrellas of personal privacy and religious freedom there are widespread practices in which parents” harm their children by teaching them ignoble lies."

"....the very ideal of religious tolerance—born of the notion that every human being should be free to believe whatever he wants about God—is one of the principal forces driving us toward the abyss.”.”?

I fail to see how he is different in principle? Accept that Catholicism has made progress. Yet what authority does Atheism accept that defines what it is to believe? I would not so much fear a President Carl Sagan vs Stalin & maybe Harris.

His Atheism isn't very liberal IMHO.

Jinzang said...

I read Sam Harris's essays on his new book and have a hard time understanding how his well being differs from utilitarianism. Maybe his new theory merely consists of the claim that well being can be measured with an MMR.

I can't see how his ethics is more scientific than any other. Perhaps well being is measurable, but the connection claimed between well being and virtue is arbitrary. One could construct a racist morality, where the goal is to maximize the proportion of people with pale skin. Pale skin is also physically measurable and hence by Harris's standard "scientific," yet the morality is false and monstrous.

Crude said...


Carl Sagan, for all his faults, denied being an atheist. He was an agnostic who said he'd have to know a lot more than he did to know there was no God.

For all the atheists who love invoking his name, they certainly have no problem thinking they were smarter than him.

TheOFloinn said...

I get the impression Harris supports Aquinas view in principle that certain views are harmful & can only be met with State coercion.

Sam Harris wrote:
"Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them."

BenYachov said...

I won't quibble with you Crude my friend. Still given that most fundamentalist New Atheist types strongly define Atheism in negative terms (i.e. Atheist=lack of god-belief) then he was an "Atheist".

Still he was a class act even if he bought into the whole Hypatia Myth.

I miss him & I pray for His soul.

BenYachov said...


Thanks for the assist.:-)

Crude said...

Feser's failure to understand Law's point on the Evidential Problem of Evil is typical of many fundamentalists.

Fundamentalists. The race horse leaves the gates and... immediately trips.

Crude said...

Yes quite right, let's instantiate

You instantiate in interesting ways.

Now, try to deal with the meat of the argument

That ain't meat, my friend. Law's challenge has already been answered on this site - if you haven't comprehended it, alas, them's the breaks. Trying to rephrase it in some 'legal' way doesn't help or make it new.

What's more, every single act and good, period, would also be the deity's responsibility - including the outcome of the trial. Your example doesn't even reflect the actual claims involved here because you're not thinking it through. Not against the classical theist, and not even against the theistic personalist. Try again, and try representing the actual proportionate scope, powers, and responsibilities of the deity.

Now, maybe with a more limited deity - say an Ares, or a Loki - your example would work. But, surprise.. those also tend to be the sort of deities no one claims is absolutely good anyway. "Ares, you stand accused of encouraging and permitting a war wherein millions died!" 'I plead guilty, and if my sentence is anything but a lot of sacrifices and some virgins, I'm cutting all your heads off and feeding your bodies to my dogs.' That would make a good short story, come to think of it.

As for Voltaire, I like him. He didn't have much patience for atheism either, and a deist is miles more sensible than an atheist besides. Give me a deist who insists reason reveals God's existence over an atheist who lacks reason, any day of the week.

TheOFloinn said...

....still processing the idea of a "deity," good or ill, in a spaceship orbiting Saturn.... Someone is unclear on the concept of "deity" here.

Crude said...

and while HE's story may be somewhat relevant one of the best literary examples of the EPOE would be...Voltaire's Candide, written in response to Leibniz's "classical theism"

What's more, Voltaire's "Candide" (did you even read it?) isn't known for taking on 'classical theism' re: Leibniz, but principally his claim that we live in the best of all possible worlds. Did Voltaire think there was so much evil in the world that God was clearly a monster?

Perhaps you're not familiar with how Voltaire went to his grave:

In February 1778, Voltaire returned for the first time in 20 years to Paris, among other reasons to see the opening of his latest tragedy, Irene. The 5-day journey was too much for the 83-year old, and he believed he was about to die on February 28, writing "I die adoring God, loving my friends, not hating my enemies, and detesting superstition." However, he recovered, and in March saw a performance of Irene where he was treated by the audience as a returning hero.[7] He soon became ill again and died on 30 May 1778. His last words were: "For God's sake, let me die in peace."[13]

Adoring God. I suppose Voltaire would vote 'not guilty'.

Anonymous said...

you're embarrassing yourself.

Anonymous said...

Hey wait!!!!
Voltaire types much like another sockpuppet of a sockpuppet nut typed on here.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Jinzang at 4:45 PM:

Exactly! From what I have read so far (not the book, but related materials), it's just utilitarianism with a laser beam attached to its forehead.

If overall "well-being" is the moral compass bar none, then why not support a dictator who intends to subjugate the entire human race IN ORDER TO lock it into a Matrix-style global Orgasmatron? He would thereby ensure ongoing bliss for pretty much all sentient beings. Yet, clearly, the Empire of Bliss does not seem at all like a moral/virtuous/good situation. Hence, the cleft between morality and summed bliss over a population immediately rips wide open again. If Harris counters that there are other goods, such as "autonomy" or "dignity," which must balance out such an excess of bliss, then he has simply re-entered the great moral debate, with strongly Aristotelian leanings, and brings nothing new to the debate.

Well, nothing new besides a laser beam on his forehead and an awesome Ben Stiller impersonation.

Ilíon said...

Off topic, but did Sam Harris really say the following?

"Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them."

Crude said...

Voltaire types much like another sockpuppet of a sockpuppet nut typed on here.

Oh Lord, you're right. Bwahaha. I was wondering that, but yeah.. Ed's got a pet troll, it seems.

Ilíon said...

Shoot, even I have pet trolls, and I'm no one.

PatrickH said...

Harris seems particularly vulnerable to the Matrix argument since like many moderns, he thinks happiness is not only well-being, but self-conscious well-being. We're happy when we feel good...and we know we feel good.

Hence the desirability, from a Harris point of view, of a virtual-reality paradise as the ultimate goal of his scientific morality.

And of course, by his reasoning, we would have no right to refuse the gift of virtual bliss, since all other values grow from the value of self-aware well-being.

And yes, Harris did make the remark about killing people for having certain beliefs. That is a direct quote, I believe, since I remember reading those same words in EoF (although I may have read it in an essay).

PatrickH said...

I must say I find it interesting that the formidable Brandon seems to have some sympathy for Harris, at least insofar as Harris tries to transcend the supposed "is/ought" dichotomy. Everything I've read by Brandon on Harris over at Siris seems to have that sympathy, at least on that issue. I wonder what Brandon thinks of the thought of Harris in general?

Curious question, not critical. Brandon is so far out my intellectual league, he's playing a different sport. Him and Chastek. Man, those two are intimidating.

(Ed is too, but in a different way. Just finished Aquinas, and I have to say I finally began to understand something of the ethics of Aquinas, which had been impenetrable to me before. Great job, Ed!)

Anonymous said...


The Sam Harris quote is accurate: he discusses it on his own website here:
some way down the page.

BenYachov said...

It seems "VoltaireX" is trying to do double duty. (1) Assert(without proof) that if there is a God then he must be of the post-enlightenment Theistic Personalist variety & then turn around and use the standard (& I might even concede, to give em a fighting chance, semi-successful) New Atheist polemics against said "god".

This is as tedious as one fundie Atheist's sad attempt to convince me Genesis must be interpreted literalistically & not figuratively or allegorically (even thought there is a Patristic Historic Basis for it) so he can prove Genesis is false because it is "non-scientific".

Tedious! I am a Classic Theist! If the Classic Theist God does not exist then there is no God & I could care less about the moral status of a hypothetical Theistic Personalist "god" I don't believe on classic grounds can exist in the first place.

Get over it!

TheOFloinn said...

The fullness provided by Harris himself:

The link between belief and behavior raises the stakes considerably. Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them. This may seem an extraordinary claim, but it merely enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live. Certain beliefs place their adherents beyond the reach of every peaceful means of persuasion, while inspiring them to commit acts of extraordinary violence against others. There is, in fact, no talking to some people. If they cannot be captured, and they often cannot, otherwise tolerant people may be justified in killing them in self-defense. This is what the United States attempted in Afghanistan, and it is what we and other Western powers are bound to attempt, at an even greater cost to ourselves and to innocents abroad, elsewhere in the Muslim world. We will continue to spill blood in what is, at bottom, a war of ideas.
-- The End of Faith, pp. 52-53

He also says, at

"I am not alone in thinking that there are potential circumstances in which the use of torture would be ethically justifiable."

"As I argue in The End of Faith, one can easily imagine situations in which even a very low probability of getting useful information through torture would seem to justify it — the looming threat of nuclear terrorism being the most obvious case."

Anonymous said...

Professor Feser you are now officially on youtube,

TheOFloinn said...

why, that's just the absence of Good, not [sic] really "evil".

But evil really is the absence of a good.

The usual jesuit tricks.
claiming JHVH was really pissed off at those schvarzies

Make up your mind: Jesuits or Jews?

BenYachov said...


It seems like most Fundamentalist Atheists types you assume denial of "gods" makes you automatically "rational" & it is clearly inconceivable to you that there really isn't any such thing as a one size fits all polemic against Theism in General.

>but the real issue is having the believers prove a monotheistic and loving God exists.

I reply: God "loves" me in that he wills I should freely embrace Him as the Ultimate Good. God is not a human person that cares if I endure temporal suffering on the way. God doesn't have human emotions in the Classic Concept. I'm sorry but those are the brute facts.

Deal with it.

>It's a variation on Russell's teacup analogy:

I reply: Which is an invalid analogy since a teapot is an isolani. The Classical Theistic God by definition isn't an isolani.

see here.

Last Time I checked Prof Vallicella thinks the Catholic Church is a "corrupt institution" so he isn't bias to our side per say.

Ilíon said...

Since this is a long thread spanning many days, I ought to have made explicit the context of my question whether Harris had really said that that it may be ethical to kill people due to the content of their beliefs (I knew he had, that's why I asked).

The context is this -- on October 24, 2010 1:56 PM, one of the Anonymoi posted this:

"Off topic, but did Aquinas really say the following:

heretics "deserve not only to be separated from the church by excommunication, but also to be severed from the world by death."

Ilíon said...

BenYachov: "I reply: God "loves" me in that he wills I should freely embrace Him as the Ultimate Good. God is not a human person that cares if I endure temporal suffering on the way. God doesn't have human emotions in the Classic Concept. I'm sorry but those are the brute facts."

It seems to me that this so-called "classical theism" is at least as defective as the allegeged defectivism of "personalist theism." AND, so far, I can't see any real difference between the "God of classical theism" and "the God of the philosophers" ... which is *not* the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Sure, God is not a human person ... because human persons are the image/idol/shadow of his personhood. Yet, he *is* (and has always been) a human person: for Christ, who is God, is a human person.

BenYachov said...


You can believe what you like. May God save you my brother, but if I believe the Council of Chalcedon Jesus is a Divine Person (i.e. Hypostasis) only with two natures. To say He is a human person is the heresy of Nestorious.

The "God of the philosophers" is the Biblical God as we can know Him by reason alone sans Scripture. I'm afraid Catholic Christians can't really believe otherwise.

Speaking personally I'm glad God's love for me is merely an Act of His Will & not a mere Emotion. What's to stop an emotional God from having a Diva fit & throwing me out of Heaven if His passions take him?

You can disagree but there we are. Even Mr. Wood who is a Theistic Personalist debated John Loftus & pointed out "evil god" arguments and arguments from evil in general have no force against a Classic view. Which is why Law might be grasping at straws and or wasting his time.

Cheers brother.

Ilíon said...

You didn't really read what I wrote, did you?

Manuel Labor said...

Voltaire X makes me think that the blog that wanted to scream finally got his mouth.

Manuel Labor said...

blog = blob

Anonymous said...

Ilion is being an internet bully.

BenYachov said...




who wrote:
>You didn't really read what I wrote, did you?

I reply: I did my best. I'm sorry it wasn't good enough for you. I wish you well. If there is confusion here it is likely because I am using a specific understanding of "person" as it refers to God. Sure God may be a person analogously but he can't be one unequivocally. At least for those of us who are militant Thomists.

Cheers my friend.

Anonymous said...

Yeah Voltaire prefers his ad hominens more explicit.

Anonymous said...


Law's argument hadly stands up against Aquins' reply, really