Sunday, November 13, 2011

Broken Law (Updated)

So, a year after promising a reply to my detailed critique of his “evil god challenge,” Stephen Law’s long-awaited response (see the combox remarks he links to) mostly comes to this: You just don’t get it.  Go re-read my paper and this article by Wes Morriston.

“Courtier’s reply,” anyone?

Though he dismisses them as “awful,” Law does not respond in any substantive way to the points I made in my critique.  He does offer a few brief remarks intended to clarify his position, but they serve only to reinforce, rather than answer, my objections.  I’m not going to repeat everything I’ve said before -- if you haven’t already, go read my original post on Law (since which I’ve written a few other relevant posts, which I’ve linked to here).  But you might recall that the problem with Law’s position is as follows.

Law claims that the evidence for the existence of a good God is no better than the evidence for the existence of an evil god, and that any theodicy a theist might put forward as a way of reconciling the fact of evil with the existence of a good God has a parallel in a reverse-theodicy a believer in an evil god could put forward to reconcile the presence of good in the world with the existence of an evil god.  Now, no one actually believes in an evil god.  Therefore, Law concludes, since (he claims) the evidence for a good God is no better than that for an evil God, no one should believe in a good God either.  That’s the “evil god challenge.” 

The trouble is that Law regards this as a challenge to theism generally, and it simply isn’t.  It applies at most only to one, historically idiosyncratic version of theism.  So, suppose you regard the divine attributes as in principle metaphysically separable -- that something that is, for example, omnipotent or omniscient could nevertheless fail to be all-good.  Suppose also that you regard good and evil as on a metaphysical par, neither more fundamental than the other.  And suppose that you consider the grounds for belief in God to consist in an inductive inference to the effect that God is the best explanation of various bits of evidence -- the orderliness of the world, the good we find in it, etc.  Given those specific metaphysical and epistemological assumptions -- the sort that might be made by someone beholden to a “theistic personalist” conception of God and who thinks Paley-style “design arguments” and the like are the best reason to believe in God -- Law’s challenge might be a problem.  (Or maybe not.  But since I have no time either for theistic personalism or for Paley-style “design arguments,” I really couldn’t care less.)

But given different metaphysical and epistemological assumptions, Law’s “evil god challenge” is no challenge at all.  Hence, suppose that, like almost all of the most prominent theologians and philosophers of religion historically (Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Maimonides, Avicenna, Averroes, and Aristotelians, Neo-Platonists, and Thomists and other Scholastics generally) you are a classical theist.  You will hold, accordingly, that God is absolutely simple or non-composite, so that all of the divine attributes are one and thus metaphysically inseparable in principle.  You will also regard God, not as one being among others, but as subsistent being itself or pure actuality, beyond any genus.  And you will regard Him, not as one cause among others, but as that from which all finite causes -- which have, ultimately, only instrumental causality -- necessarily derive their causal power.  Suppose that you also hold that good and evil are not on a metaphysical par, but that evil is a privation of good.  And suppose you endorse the doctrine of the transcendentals, according to which being and goodness are convertible, so that whatever is being itself or pure actuality is also goodness itself, necessarily devoid of evil.  It follows from all this that nothing that is omnipotent could possibly be less than perfectly good, and indeed that nothing that is divine could possibly be less than perfectly good.  

Suppose, finally, that you also think there are demonstrative (as opposed to merely inductive or evidential) arguments for the existence of the God of classical theism -- that you endorse an Aristotelian argument from motion to a purely actual Unmoved Mover, say, or Aquinas’s “existence argument” in On Being and Essence for something that is subsistent being itself, or a Neo-Platonic argument for a source of the world that is an absolute unity.  If such arguments work at all, then given the background metaphysics, they prove conclusively (and not merely with some degree of probability) that there is a God who cannot in principle be anything less than perfectly good.

Given these very different metaphysical and epistemological assumptions, it is blindingly obvious that Law’s “evil god challenge” is completely irrelevant.  His “evil god hypothesis” doesn’t stalemate the arguments for classical theism, for two reasons.  First, unlike the “good god” of theistic personalism, the God of classical theism isn’t in the same genus as Law’s “evil god.”  The God of classical theism isn’t the same kind of thing as Law’s “evil god” at all.  (Indeed, unlike everything else that exists, the God of classical theism isn’t in a genus or kind in the first place -- that’s part of the whole point of classical theism.)  So there is no parallel between alternative “hypotheses” of the sort Law needs in order to get his “challenge” off the ground.  

Second, the arguments typically employed by classical theists simply cannot be stalemated by “evidential” considerations because they are typically not “evidential” or inductive or probabilistic arguments in the first place.  If an Aristotelian argument from motion, or Aquinas’s “existence argument,” or Neo-Platonic arguments work at all, they get you demonstratively to something that is pure actuality, or subsistent being itself, or an absolute unity; and the other metaphysical theses alluded to get you from there to something that is of necessity perfectly good (indeed, something that is goodness itself).  To suggest that what is purely actual or subsistent being itself might, given the “evidence,” be evil, is simply unintelligible.  To make such a suggestion would merely be to show that the one making it doesn’t understand the metaphysical concepts in question.

Now that does not mean that classical theism and the arguments for it are not subject to criticism.  A critic could try to show that there is something wrong with the doctrine of divine simplicity, or with the doctrine of privation, or with the doctrine of the transcendentals, or that there is some fallacy in one of the attempts to provide a demonstrative argument for the existence of the God of classical theism.  But even if an atheist could make such objections stick, it is those objections that will be doing the work, and not the “evil god challenge.”  The “evil god challenge” drops out as simply irrelevant.  

(Compare: Suppose someone presented a purported proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem, to which two critics raised objections.  Critic A says that the purported proof contains a fallacy.  Critic B says that the inductive evidence the attempted proof provides can be stalemated by equally good evidence for a counter-theorem.  Critic A may or may not be correct.   Critic B is, as they say, “not even wrong.”  He is merely embarrassing himself, and even if critic A turns out to be right, critic B will still have been merely embarrassing himself.)

Now it is pretty clear that what Law should say to all this is: “Fine, the ‘evil god challenge’ is not a completely general challenge to theism, but only, specifically, to evidential arguments for theistic personalism.  That’s at least something, even if it is nowhere close to the atheistic knock-out punch I hoped it would be.”  But rather than make use of this dignified exit from the hole he finds himself in, Law has chosen to keep digging.  Still insisting that my criticisms are “awful,” Law makes several attempts to clarify his position.  In particular, he says this:

[CLARIFICATION I:] My point is that even if it could be shown that an evil god is an impossibility (and that does seem to be your strategy, after all), we might still ask, "But supposing it wasn't an impossibility, would an evil god not in any case be pretty conclusively ruled out on empirical grounds - e.g. given the amount of good we observe?" If the answer to that question is "yes", then the challenge remains to explain why a good god is not similarly ruled out.

And he says this:

[CLARIFICATION II:] My argument is that there is, on the face of it, overwhelming empirical evidence AGAINST the good god hypothesis (whether or not this god is thought of as a person, as being morally responsible, etc. personhood is not required).  Most people accept this, unless (i) they're religious, and (ii) it dawns on them what the consequences of this are re their belief in a good god, when many suddenly get radically skeptical!

The challenge is, then to explain, why, if the evil god hypothesis is ruled out pretty conclusively on empirical grounds, the same is not true of the good god hypothesis.

To these combox remarks, I replied with a combox remark of my own, to which Law responded with this and this:

[CLARIFICATION III:] Even if an evil God is a conceptual impossibility, the fact that he can ALSO be ruled out on empirical grounds (which you may dispute of course) raises the question, "well, why isn't a good god similarly ruled out on empirical grounds?" The question remains whether or evil god is ruled out on empirical grounds. Surely this is bloody obvious by now?

PS and of course my argument does not depend on the thought that Christians arrive at their views about god inductively based on observation of the world. As Edwars' [sic] criticism assumes that is my view, it fails. That's it.

Now as far as I can tell, CLARIFICATION I amounts to this: Yes, given all that classical theism stuff, the “evil god challenge” would fail.  But suppose that classical theism is wrong and that evidential arguments for a theistic personalist god are the best we can do.   In that case the “evil god challenge” applies!

This is a little like Critic B of our imagined proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem saying “OK, but suppose the proof in question were an inductive argument.  Then my objection would be a pretty powerful challenge, huh?”  More to the point, Law’s CLARIFICATION I implicitly concedes that my criticism is correct even as Law continues to maintain that it is “awful.”  Law has here made his “evil god challenge” completely trivial: It applies to those versions of theism to which it applies.  True, but hardly interesting.

CLARIFICATION II is simply baffling.  Law tells us that most non-religious people tend to agree with him that there is overwhelming evidence against the existence of a good God, however that God is conceived.  Well, maybe they do (which would not be surprising given that they’re non-religious).  But what’s Law’s point?  Is he saying that since those people don’t buy classical theism (or any other kind of theism), they should take the “evil god challenge” seriously?  Again, that may be true, but so what?  How does that show that the “evil god challenge” applies also to classical theism?  Once again Law reduces his position to a triviality: The “evil god challenge” needs to be taken seriously by anyone who isn’t convinced by those versions of theism to which the “evil god challenge” does not apply!  Again, true, but uninteresting.

CLARIFICATION III is about as good as the following argument from Critic B of our imagined proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem:  Even if Critic A is right that the proof contains a fallacy, my point is that the proof can ALSO be ruled out on empirical grounds (which you may dispute of course).  Surely this is bloody obvious by now?  

Again, Critic B would simply show by such a statement that he doesn’t understand the difference between an attempted mathematical proof and an empirical theory.  And Law’s remarks show that he doesn’t understand the difference between a purported metaphysical demonstration of the impossibility of an evil God (in the classical theist’s sense of “God”) and empirical theorizing about whether there is a “god” in some other sense, a sense that would leave it open whether this “god” is good or evil.

Law’s “PS” to CLARIFICATION III is also baffling.  He now tells that “of course” his argument doesn’t depend on the assumption that Christians arrive at their views about God inductively based on observation of the world.  Well, in that case, he needs to answer the following question: Take a classical theist who is working with the metaphysical and epistemological assumptions described above and who claims to have a demonstrative argument to the effect that there is a God who is pure actuality or subsistent being itself and who therefore (given the background metaphysics) cannot even in principle be anything less than perfectly good.  How exactly does the “evil god challenge” pose a challenge to such a theist?

In answering, Law should remember that it will not do to say: “Well, I don’t think the doctrine of privation, the doctrine or the transcendentals, divine simplicity, etc. are correct and/or that the attempted demonstration in question is sound.”   For in that case, it will be the various specific criticisms of these various metaphysical and epistemological assumptions that will be doing the philosophical work, and not the evil god challenge itself.  He should remember also that it will not do to say: “If we don’t make these various classical theistic background assumptions in metaphysics and epistemology, then the ‘evil god challenge’ applies.”  For that is true but completely trivial.

I think we’re done here.  On the other hand, Law also tells us that a more substantive reply is forthcoming.   I guess I can wait another year.

UPDATE 11/15: For readers who haven’t already noticed, Stephen Law has now replied to this post in two blog posts of his own (here and here) and in a number of combox remarks, both below and in his own comboxes.  In response, I’ve posted a number of comments of my own down below.

386 comments:

1 – 200 of 386   Newer›   Newest»
Crude said...

Well, in that case, he needs to answer the following question: Take a classical theist who is working with the metaphysical and epistemological assumptions described above and who claims to have a demonstrative argument to the effect that there is a God who is pure actuality or subsistent being itself and who therefore (given the background metaphysics) cannot even in principle be anything less than perfectly good. How exactly does the “evil god challenge” pose a challenge to such a theist?

I suspect Law is operating under the assumption that, if the classical theist arguments are taken to establish God's existence and goodness, that this cashes out to an evidential claim like "we should expect the world as we see it to not have certain evils or to have certain goods". Such that if the classical theist argument proves even what classical theists say it does, he can look at the evil in the world and go "Nope, it must be wrong."

That's the only explanation I can see for the responses he makes. Though repeatedly spelling your name Fesser puts "he's not really reading or understanding some things" in the running.

BenYachov said...

Crude has a good point. Which is why one needs to point out God is Good but not a moral agent. Because a God who is not a moral agent is not obliged to make a world with minimal or no evil.

As Aquinas says there is no possible world so good, God is obliged to make it & none so bad as long as it partakes of Being, God might refrain from making it.

Eric said...

"I suspect Law is operating under the assumption that, if the classical theist arguments are taken to establish God's existence and goodness, that this cashes out to an evidential claim like "we should expect the world as we see it to not have certain evils or to have certain goods". Such that if the classical theist argument proves even what classical theists say it does, he can look at the evil in the world and go "Nope, it must be wrong."

Crude, I was thinking something along the same lines, though I have a slightly different take.

I wonder if Professor Law is making this sort of claim: If we bracket the metaphysical arguments classical theists adduce to support their conclusions about God's existence and nature, and run the 'impossibility' argument from the evil god challenge (EGC), then we can see that a good god is ruled out on empirical grounds. But if a good god is ruled out on empirical grounds, then a good god is ruled out simpliciter (or, perhaps more reasonably, is more likely than not ruled out), for this is tantamount to conceding that the evidential POE is a success. Hence, Professor Law must think that the metaphysical demonstrations are simply overtaken by the empirical considerations that motivate the evidential POE.

(Why? I can only speculate, but I suspect that something along the following lines is at the back of it all: reasoning from empirical data is generally to be preferred to metaphysical reasoning, and when empirically derived conclusions conflict with conclusions reached via metaphysical argumentation, we should in general give precedence to the former and reject the latter. And this principle, or something like it, not only has the record of modern science supporting it, but it conforms to our common sense understanding of hard facts taking precedence over rational speculation. Now as I said, I don't know if this is behind Professor Law's argument, but it's the best I can do.)

Crude said...

I agree, that's another way to put it - though it took some extraction work to get that out of Law, if that's what he's really saying.

I think it's riddled with problems from top to bottom, and that his absurdity premise is extremely weak - but I'll get to that later. Duty calls.

Tony said...

Eric, you may be right. This would explain his repeated harping on "overwhelming evidence" that the evil in the world rules out a good god.

Of course, that doesn't really get him out of the woods argument structure-wise, even in within his own charge against a personalist god. He hasn't actually argued the case that the evidence we have is "overwhelming" in showing there is no good god, his only real effort drawn out in detail is that there is JUST AS MUCH evidence for an evil good as a good one. He somehow jumps from that rather careful production to the "overwhelming evidence" comment without any argument at all. It is a pretty basic example of hand-waving misdirection while he is pulling the rabbit out of the hat. Unless he is really thinking the logical problem of evil establishes the case for him, but of course he explicitly eschews any discussion of that concern, so it would be (for him, anyway) pulling the rabbit out of his sleeve instead.

JA said...

Eric and Crude seem to be right here. Each response from Law seemed to have something like the assumptions they limn behind them; although, he never specified them, which is why there has been so much confusion. It didn't help that many of his criticisms eventually devolved to the level of psychology.

If Law really is arguing in this vein, he needs to argue that arguments based upon evidential reasoning are superior to metaphysical ones or at least can invalidate a metaphysical argument in this instance. Simply asserting that they can will not do.

JA said...

And if I may add, as Professor Feser suggests in his post, this is VERY hard to do.

Bobcat said...

To me, this whole Law-Feser flap is analogous to an argument between a naturalist who thinks that naturalism is akin to a conceptual truth (call this person a conceptual naturalist) and a non-naturalist who tries to argue against such naturalism inductively (call this person an inductive non-naturalist). Let me be more specific:

Conceptual Naturalist: Naturalism is necessarily true, because any non-naturalistic explanation for any phenomenon is either no explanation at all or is simply a disguised naturalistic explanation.
Inductive Non-Naturalist: Maybe you're right; but if you're right, how do you explain the mysteriousness of consciousness?
Conceptual Naturalist: I admit, I don't yet have an explanation for how consciousness is possible given a naturalistic framework. But the point is, there must be some naturalistic explanation available, because a non-naturalistic explanation is no explanation at all, and I think all phenomena have explanations.
Inductive Non-Naturalist: so you admit, you don't know how consciousness is possible naturalistically?
Conceptual Naturalist: yes.
Inductive Non-Naturalist: So isn't this evidence against the truth of naturalism?
Conceptual Naturalist: No, it's not evidence against the truth of naturalism, because naturalism is the only position that can be true. At most, it's a mystery as to how, given the truth of naturalism, we can get things like consciousness.
Inductive Non-Naturalist: The fact that you're resorting to mystery suggests to me that consciousness is indeed evidence against naturalism.
Conceptual Naturalist: No, it can't be, it literally can't be evidence against naturalism, because, as I have said -- a few times now -- it is impossible for naturalism to be false.
Inductive Non-Naturalist: Fair enough, but you at least must admit that the mysteriousness of consciousness lowers your confidence in naturalism a little bit?
Conceptual Naturalist: Huh? What the hell is wrong with you? No, it doesn't lower my confidence in naturalism. How could it, when naturalism is necessarily true? What would lower my confidence in naturalism is an attack on my claims that non-naturalistic explanations aren't explanations at all.

This argument can go on and on. The point is, I see Feser's position as being as follows:

(1) There is a sound, deductively valid argument that shows that God exists.
(2) Therefore, no amount of evil can show that God doesn't exist. At most, the coexistence of evil with God is a mystery.

Perhaps evil could make him worry that his sound, deductively valid argument is not so sound after all, but that's something psychological, not rational.

I realize there's a bunch of issues I'm side-stepping. But it seems to me that Law's argument simply cannot work on Feser's position, except psychologically. I'm writing this only to try to find something that may be more convincing to Law.

Crude said...

JA,

If Law really is arguing in this vein, he needs to argue that arguments based upon evidential reasoning are superior to metaphysical ones or at least can invalidate a metaphysical argument in this instance.

Absolutely, and hopefully his argument there wouldn't be "It's just obvious that..."

More than that, I still think the most glaring flaw in his argument (certainly when considering it against something other than classical theism) is that he relies, and relies heavily, on an evil god being ruled out as absurd by all parties. I don't bother checking his blog, but at least on his interactions on here and the other comboxes I've seen has him insisting that A) an evil god is just absurd given what we see in the world, B) everyone agrees with this until they face his argument and then they change their minds but no philosophers or theists ever write papers claiming this, C) the spread of observed good and evil in the world is either exactly even, or so even that any difference is negligible. But A is extremely problematic, and responding to everyone who denies A with psychoanalysis just isn't convincing. (Imagine if Rosenberg showed up in the threads Ed is running about his book, insisting that his book is totally fantastic and the only reason anyone would think otherwise is because they're afraid of the conclusions.)

And it just gets worse once the classical theist comes into play.

grodrigues said...

A simpler question that I still have not understood: what is the evil God challenge suppose to achieve above and beyond the evidential problem of evil? If Crude's understanding of it is correct, then I surmise that nothing, but probably I am missing something.

Crude said...

grodrigues,

A simpler question that I still have not understood: what is the evil God challenge suppose to achieve above and beyond the evidential problem of evil?

I think it comes down to this: Law insists that everyone knows an evil god's existence is absurd based on what we know of the world. He also insists that there's a parity between the amount of evil we see in the world and the amount of good we see in the world. Also, both an evil god and a good god should be rendered absurd given the same amount of conflicting data. Therefore, we should consider a good god to be absurd.

The only thing it adds that I can see above and beyond the evidential argument from evil is the claim 'well you agree that an evil god is absurd, right? So if you think that then...' Which is why all hell breaks loose if you think that no, an evil god is not absurd based on our knowledge of the world alone.

Eric said...

"Perhaps evil could make him worry that his sound, deductively valid argument is not so sound after all, but that's something psychological, not rational."

Bobcat, could Law formulate this as a rational objection if he privileges (and gives reasons for privileging) empirical considerations over metaphysical deductions?

E.g. suppose we had what we believed to be a sound metaphysical argument supporting the conclusion that the universe must be temporally infinite, but came up against good empirical reasons for concluding that the universe is temporally finite. It seems to me that Law is supposing that something like this is going on here -- we think we have sound metaphysical arguments supporting the conclusion that a good god exists, but the amount of evil/suffering in the world butts against that conclusion, and we should privilege empirical considerations over metaphysical ones when they conflict. In this way it seems to me that he's arguing that the EGC buttresses the evidential POE by getting the theist to concede (1) on empirical grounds, the notion of a good god is as ridiculous as the notion of an evil god, and (2) traditional theodicies can be shown to fail more obviously when we consider how unsatisfactory and frankly bizarre they seem when run in reverse to defend the evil god.

Crude said...

Eric,

(1) on empirical grounds, the notion of a good god is as ridiculous as the notion of an evil god, and (2) traditional theodicies can be shown to fail more obviously when we consider how unsatisfactory and frankly bizarre they seem when run in reverse to defend the evil god.

I actually have trouble seeing how 1 and 2 don't cash out to a restatement of what Bobcat was saying. 'Unsatisfactory' and 'bizarre', at the least, sound more like emphasizing the entire psychological nature of the criticism. 'Ridiculous' as well - what if they're equally reasonable, at least given a purely* empirical treatment without metaphysical arguments considered?

(* Insofar as you can even have a 'purely empirical' treatment of good and evil, anyway, which is another aspect of this I don't see being highlighted much.)

JA said...

I don't think Bobcat's analogy works. "Conceptual naturalists," as he calls them, do not arrive at their position by metaphysical argumentation, but based on what they perceive to be a probabilistic argument from evidential reasoning.

The "Inductive Non-Naturalist," in this case, is simply providing examples of phenomena that the "Conceptual Naturalist" cannot explain inductively and manages by employing an Atheism of the Gaps, i.e, a fideistic assertion that there is a naturalistic explanation for the mind that will one day be discovered.

Evil does not pose the same problem for the classical theist as mind does for the "Conceptual Naturalist" because the classical theist has an explanation for evil (i.e. as a privation of being/the good) that is completely consistent with its premises.

Reflecting on this, I think this makes Law's task to establish that evidential knowledge of evil can invalidate the metaphysical conceptualization of evil all the more difficult--even impossible. How the heck does one establish that there is too much "evil" in the world to invalidate such arguments? How does one precisely measure and calculate this? Further, what are the thresholds where the amount of "evil" spills over and invalidates classical theism? Can evil even be clearly identified and abstracted out of its context in every circumstance? How would the reliability of such measures even be established?

Methinks one would need to be omniscient in order to even attempt this.

I think Feser accurately characterizes this situation above: Law's position is akin to that of Critic B. It is a preposterous stance to take.

I'm Bored of It All said...

The New Atheist movement is by all accounts dead. I enjoyed it while it lasted, because it brought the discussion to the forefront of cultural discourse. They grew at first from nominal Christians who were unprepared to face a challenge, but today most realize that their arguments amount to naught. Nobody cares about the latest rant from Dawkins and most, including many atheists, have come completely around to seeing him as a coward (as in the recent evasion of a Craig debate), full of rhetoric but afraid of defending it.

The internet atheists have hopped from failed messiah to failed messiah. It was Richard Carrier, then Victor Stenger, and most recently Stephen Law. As each proved an unworthy hope, some have jumped ship completely as the movement has died off, but others have continued on. Where will they go now, and should theists even care?

Crude said...

And just to get back to Ed's point...

I think Ed's clearly correct. Ed presents arguments and metaphysical proofs which stand or fall on their own, and they aren't evidential arguments. Even what we've been discussing here about what Law could possibly mean about applying his "argument" would entail that Law has to make arguments beyond the EGC itself.

And if he's going to rely on "it's just obvious that that an evil god is absurd and therefore a good god is absurd" as a move, he could have saved everyone a lot of time and simply said "it's just obvious that a good god is absurd".

Landon Hedrick said...

Ed,

I found this comment of yours interesting:

"Law claims...that any theodicy a theist might put forward as a way of reconciling the fact of evil with the existence of a good God has a parallel in a reverse-theodicy a believer in an evil god could put forward to reconcile the presence of good in the world with the existence of an evil god."

The reason I found it interesting is because I've read Law's paper, in which he writes:

"First, as will become clear, I reject Hare, Madden, Cahn, and Stein's central claim: that the problems of good and evil and their respective solutions are 'exactly parallel' (Madden and Hare). The solutions are not exactly parallel. I will indicate some asymmetries between the two problems and sets of theodicies (and also asymmetries in the arguments that might be mounted for these respective gods)." (p. 9)

"With a little ingenuity, reverse theodicies can be constructed for many other standard theodicies too. However, as I now explain, we should probably concede that--contrary to the claims made by Madden, Hare, Cahn, and Stein--in some cases, no 'exactly parallel' theodicy can be constructed." (p. 16)

After a discussion of one traditional Christian theodicy, Law writes:

"Pace Madden, Hare, Cahn, and Stein, it seems that not every theodicy even has a parallel, let alone an exact one." (p. 16)

Landon Hedrick said...

Now, admittedly, this is a minor point and it doesn't get to the main thrust of your objection to Law's argument. Your main point is that the argument doesn't apply to classical theism. But I don't see why this is much of a problem. The contemporary debate about the existence of God seems to focus primarily on the kind of personalist God you don't believe in (and don't have time for). I understand that you argue for the existence of God in the classical sense, but: (i) most theists in my acquaintance--and I'd be willing to guess most theists in general--believe in the sort of being that Craig, Swinburne, Plantinga, etc. believe in; they would likely reject the kind of being you argue for in your writings, once you spelled out the details for them; (ii) the debate that Law is engaged in is not the debate that you're engaged in. Law's paper (and his recent debate with William Lane Craig) were both focused on the question of whether there is a personal being who is omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good, etc. As you know, the kind of debate they're engaged in should be kept separate from the kind of debate you're engaged in--even if you want to claim that your God is an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good 'person' in some analogical sense. (I'm not familiar enough with your writings on this to know whether you'd say God is a 'person' in some analogical sense.) Since the two debates are separate, and since Law is engaged in one of those debates (regarding the kind of being that most theists actually believe in--correct me if you think I'm wrong about that), pointing out that his argument doesn't apply in this other debate is a rather strained objection.

Since there are at least two ways of construing the debate about the existence of God (namely, the way that Craig et al. construe it and the way that you and other classical theists construe it), it's unrealistic to expect an objection to one to also apply to the other. Now I realize that you gave Law an 'out', which was for him to admit that the argument doesn't apply to theism in general, but only to one "historically idiosyncratic version of theism." I say, Law should take this route! If you're talking about something else and calling it "God" (perhaps rightly so, coming from a rich tradition of theologians and philosophers), it's simply irrelevant to the debate Law and others are interested in. Law should also admit that he's not interested in debating the existence of Paul Tillich's God, or the various versions of pantheism posited by contemporary radical theologians. And this detracts not a bit from the actual purpose of his argument, which was already implicitly restricted to personalist conceptions of theism.

Edward Feser said...

Landon Hedrick,

I've read Law's paper too, though it's been a while, so I forgot that qualification. (Law does think that there are parallels in many cases, and gives examples -- which is what I had in mind -- just not in every single case.)

Anyway, it doesn't affect the points made in my post in the least.

Edward Feser said...

OK, I posted that last remark before seeing your second comment. Anyway, that's all well and good, but as you say (and as I've said myself) in that case Law should just come out and say "Fine, so my argument applies only to these guys and not to theism generally."

There's a reason he doesn't want to do that, though, because it is a major concession. It entails that what he has to say is irrelevant to what (to give my usual litany) Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Maimonides, Averroes, Avicenna, other Aristotelians, Neo-Platonists, and Scholastics, official Roman Catholic theology, standard Eastern Orthodox theology, etc. are defending. And then he can't represent his argument as an argument for atheism per se, but just (say) an argument against what's hot these days at SCP and EPS meetings. Kind of lacks the same punch, no?

machinephilosophy said...

What empirical data could possibly infer initial general relations between data and reasoning in order to reference them meaningfully in the first place?

And if none can, could I get my money back on the Official Empiricist ID card thing?

This is -so- unempirical.

Edward Feser said...

One more comment. Re:

I say, Law should take this route! If you're talking about something else and calling it "God" (perhaps rightly so, coming from a rich tradition of theologians and philosophers), it's simply irrelevant to the debate Law and others are interested in.

See, here's the thing. It's simply perverse to pretend that I'm complaining from some parochial POV and should let the mainstream kids have their fun. Look at that list I just gave: That -- classical theism, the theism of Athanasius, Anselm, Aquinas, blah blah blah -- is the mainstream tradition in Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and philosophical theism. People really, really need to get over this presentist "What's going on in the journals this month? What five-year old articles are we reading in the grad seminar this quarter?" mentality. (At least if they're interested in philosophy, and not careerism. Never a safe assumption with many folks.) That, as much as anything, is my point.

Landon Hedrick said...

Ed,

I don't see it as much of a concession at all, actually. Insofar as theism is construed the way it usually is these days, Law's argument is an argument for atheism, full stop. Or, at least, it's the kernel of an argument for atheism (the real argument for atheism is the evidential argument from evil, and the evil god challenge reinforces that argument while at the same time undercuts the case for theism by challenging theists to present evidence for an omnipotent, omniscient being who is also maximally good).

When you broaden "theism" to include both classical theism and contemporary theism, then it's less an argument for atheism because it's ineffective against classical theism. But we don't need to broaden "theism" in that way for the purposes of the debate. Both sides understand that when the existence of God is being debated in the journals, or in the public debates that Craig engages in, if the personalist God does not exist, then atheism is true. Even if your classical version of theism is true. It would be rather shallow to follow up on, say, the Craig-Law debate trumpeting the line that classical theism was not undermined in the debate. Right, but that's not what the debate was about. It's not even clear to me that Law thinks classical theism is false.

As for whether or not we should be paying more attention to classical theism, I don't have much to say. I'm personally less interested in that issue, and I suspect that most people in the contemporary debate don't take much of an interest in it either. And theists in general, as I said, are more interested in the personalist God they believe in. (I may be wrong, but I doubt it.)

So I guess I just disagree with your assessment that this concession by Law would be "major." I wonder what you think of this analogy. Suppose the classical dualist view in philosophy of mind were property dualism, but that in more recent times most of the debate focused on substance dualism, which also happens to be the popular view. Those still clinging on to property dualism might object when somebody argues against "dualism" (understanding that to mean "substance dualism"): "It might apply to the historically idiosyncratic substance dualism but it doesn't apply to classical dualism (i.e. property dualism). And once so-and-so admits this, I think it will be a major concession."

No, I don't think it would, if the debate was implicitly understood to be about substance dualism. Why would it be a major problem for the argument that there's another form of dualism to which the argument doesn't apply?

The analogy is a bit strained, of course, given how conversations in philosophy of mind have actually tended. But as a hypothetical, it seems appropriate. And I don't say this to downplay your version of theism. It's probably interesting. But it's just not what the debate is about.

Landon Hedrick said...

One last thing: I agree that people should familiarize themselves with the debate you're engaging in. And they should come to an understanding of classical theism in order to understand, historically, what the debate was about. But insofar as they're interested in debating the existence of God as that concept is generally understood, they don't have to grapple with classical theism. Somebody who defends atheism in print and in debates could be a theist in the classical sense, as far as I can tell. (Though, admittedly, I have lots to learn regarding classical theism, so feel free to correct me if you think I'm wrong about that.)

Bobcat said...

Ed, I think you're overstating the eccentricity (my word, not yours) of the theistic personalist tradition. The vast majority of Christians of my acquaintance, both professional philosophers and those without a philosophical education, don't believe in the God of classical theism. Admittedly, most lay Christians I know believe that God is outside of time, but they also believe that God can do things that are logically impossible, that things are right or wrong just because God says they are, that moral relativism is true, etc. Most lay Christians I know are deeply confused about philosophy, but could plausibly be said to prefer theistic personalism to classical theism.

To be perfectly honest, most Christians I've ever come across actually believe in moralistic therapeutic deism rather than Christian theism. See Christian Smith's work on the subject. It's depressing.

Crude said...

Landon,

When you broaden "theism" to include both classical theism and contemporary theism, then it's less an argument for atheism because it's ineffective against classical theism.

I think an obvious reply here is "contemporary theism is, largely, classical theism". Ed's list of names boosting classical theism can't be argued as obscure even to most modern Christians, certainly not irrelevant. Do you really think most believing Catholics, even if their exposure to the Five Ways is casual, just plain write off Aquinas as irrelevant? That really doesn't seem to be anywhere near the case.

Even if you say, 'Well, okay, so Law's argument only applies to a subset of religious believers. Why not let him have his fun?' that brings about a couple problems. First, Law's the one who's been trying to say his argument applies to classical theism. Two, even if Law backs down and says 'Okay, my argument doesn't touch that', Ed and other classical theists would still have every reason to be standing around saying "Hey, theistic personalists. Notice what Law's argument doesn't even get off the ground against. Even if you can deflect Law's argument, maybe the fact that you have to even address it will reposition classical theism in your eyes."

Crude said...

Another way to put it is this.

If Law concedes that his argument does not apply to classical theism, then - even if the theistic personalists can crush Law in reply (and frankly, I think they can) - then Law's argument actually serves as an advertisement for classical theism. At least, it can if the classical theists boom loud enough about it.

To put it another way: can you imagine if Dawkins said, "Okay, the arguments I outline in The God Delusion don't really touch on the God of Aquinas, Augustine and others."? What should classical theists do in that case? Say 'Oh, that's good' then politely shut up so as not to interrupt him? C'mon.

Also, I think we should be wary of a direction I see this line of argument going in - namely, 'New Atheists are explicitly targeting people who aren't aware of the better arguments for theism'. Is it acceptable if young earth creationists knowingly knock down bad arguments* for evolution based on misunderstandings to convince people that evolution is false?

(* Not to equate theistic personalism with such. As I said, I actually am of the mind that it's more defensible than atheism. But the direction I'm seeing here is not even one of 'this is meant to counter theistic personalism' but 'this is meant to counter people who don't know any better or don't have a good grasp on the relevant arguments to begin with'.)

Landon Hedrick said...

Crude,

Let's suppose what I'm willing to grant: Law's argument doesn't apply to classical theism. I don't see how this would serve to make classical theism more palatable to contemporary theists. Most would see it as a change of topic--connected by name, but not in substance. That's my impression at least.

I don't claim that Ed's list of classical theists is obscure, or that modern Catholics would write off Aquinas as irrelevant. I do suspect that many modern Catholics simply assume Aquinas believed in the kind of personalist God they believe in.

I don't expect classical theists to just shut up in light of Dawkins' insistence that atheism is true. They might do everyone a favor in showing that the issue has to be nuanced, since classical theism is decidedly different than the contemporary theism that Dawkins is arguing against. But then I'm not sure Dawkins and classical theists have to be opponents, either. Have a look at Richard Grigg's book Beyond The God Delusion, in which he urges readers to embrace a "radical theology" of pantheism. Insofar as the theism-atheism debate is construed as it usually is these days, Grigg is an atheist. He argues for atheism in the first chapter, I believe. But he also, rightly, doesn't think this is in conflict with his own religious view in which there is a "God." I'm thinking the same could be true of classical theists.

And I think the worry you raise at the end of your post is irrelevant. The point I'm making has nothing at all to do with the notion that Law is just targeting people who aren't familiar with the arguments (and classical conception of theism) of Aquinas. The point I'm making is that it's a different debate altogether, by Ed's own admission.

Edward Feser said...

Hi Bobcat (and Landon),

I think you're correct in terms of what the average person believes, but I don't think that's relevant. Nobody thinks that what the average guy says about quantum mechanics or Darwinism -- and he probably has all sorts of misconceptions -- is at the end of the day too relevant to evaluating those theories. What matters is what the sophisticated defender thinks. Similarly, what matters in evaluating theism is what the greatest theistic philosophers and theologians have said, and they are (historically) overwhelmingly of a classical theistic bent.

Another point, no less important. In Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, what matters is not what the man in the pew says when you ask him for his opinion. What matters is what the Church teaches. And what the Church teaches is classical theism, not theistic personalism. Moreover, the man in the pew himself will agree -- or historically has agreed, and will agree today if he is orthodox -- that his opinion needs to be submitted to the judgment of the Church. So in that sense, even the man in the pew is committed to classical theism, not theistic personalism.

(Side note: No one denies, by the way, that God has "personal" qualities -- that there is in Him something analogous to intellect and will, that He loves us, etc. So don't be too sure that the man in the pew would reject classical theism if he understood it. What is in question in the dispute between theistic personalists and classical theists is the proper interpretation of these claims. Theistic personalists don't like the doctrines of divine simplicity, immutability, etc., which are non-negotiable from a Catholic and Orthodox POV, and from the POV of some Protestants, for that matter. Hence they don't like the way that claims like "God loves us" have to be interpreted given that God is immutable, simple, etc. I've dealt with these matters in earlier posts on classical theism.)

In general, I would say that too much contemporary philosophical discussion of these issues is historically ill-informed and parochial not only philosophically, but also theologically. It's as if we're all supposed to take a kind of low-church Protestantism as the gold standard and everyone else as somehow eccentric. What the hell is that?

JA said...

Echoing Feser, I would actually challenge the characterization of classical theism by Bobcat and Landon, who seem to be implying that it is an obsolete and eccentric tradition. Well,it isn't. For one, it is still official theology and the standard theology of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, respectively. Within the Catholic tradition, especially, it is ubiquitous in seminaries and theological discourse. That the tradition is not prominent in debates in the subfield of religious philosophy in the analytical tradition, speaks more to the narrowness and insulation of that subfield than it does anything else--as well as to the detrimental effects that professionalization has had on the discipline of philosophy in general.

But even in Anglophone philosophy, there are some important representatives: G.E.M. Anscombe, Peter Geach, and Alasdair MacIntyre, to name a few from memory. MacIntyre is one of the most important living philosophers working in the tradition of virtue ethics in moral philosophy.

Crude said...

Landon,

Let's suppose what I'm willing to grant: Law's argument doesn't apply to classical theism. I don't see how this would serve to make classical theism more palatable to contemporary theists. Most would see it as a change of topic--connected by name, but not in substance. That's my impression at least.

I have a different impression. I don't think that classical theism is rejected by most people - I think they're not fully aware of it. Just like most people, for or against, have a pretty flawed view of evolution. You yourself say...

I do suspect that many modern Catholics simply assume Aquinas believed in the kind of personalist God they believe in.

And I think insofar as opportunities come up to differentiate the God of classical theism from that 'theistic personalist' God, they should be taken. I say this while realizing Law's argument isn't going to get much airtime anywhere, at the moment, than in a smaller niche. Especially since Law is trying to maintain that his argument does pull against the God of classical theism - though it's interesting that apparently everyone in the thread, theist or not, thinks he's wrong on that.

They might do everyone a favor in showing that the issue has to be nuanced, since classical theism is decidedly different than the contemporary theism that Dawkins is arguing against.

Come on, listen to what you're saying. Do you think Dawkins would regard "Yeah, my arguments don't apply to God as Aquinas, Augustine, the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox.. (and so on and so on)" as a favor? Do you think Dawkins ever presents himself as targeting 'theistic personalism'? I'd be surprised if he even knows what that term means.

Here's where the problem really shines, though.

The point I'm making has nothing at all to do with the notion that Law is just targeting people who aren't familiar with the arguments (and classical conception of theism) of Aquinas. The point I'm making is that it's a different debate altogether, by Ed's own admission.

But, amusingly enough, not by Law's own admission. You think he should just say 'Yes, my arguments don't apply to classical theism' - but he's not doing that. You suggest that Dawkins would be happy to concede that his book doesn't touch the God of classical theism - color me unconvinced. Dawkins makes reference to Aquinas in TGD, I believe, thinking he's pretty much gotten rid of Aquinas in that pass.

But really, I suppose it would help to ask this: just what are you saying Ed and other classical theists should do? Not point out that classical theism emerges unscathed from Law's argument, regardless of how it works against theistic personalists? Let's say Law goes ahead and makes the concession you're asking of him. Classical theists still have a good reason to point out that the argument doesn't touch the God of classical theism - the two groups do interact with each other, after all.

Edward Feser said...

Yet another point (to justify me pouring another Scotch while I type):

Most Catholics don't agree with the Church's teaching about contraception. Well, shame on them, but that's not the point. The point is this: Does the fact that they disagree stop atheists and other critics of the Church from harping on about contraception? Do they critics say "Only a minority of Catholics agree with the Church's stance on contraception, so it's not worth talking about"? Not at all -- in fact they won't shut up about it, and they make it central to their evaluation of Catholicism.

Well, then, why does the average person's theological opinion suddenly matter more than the Church's own teaching vis-a-vis evaluating Catholicism when it's a question of classical theism vs. theistic personalism? If we're going to say "When evaluating Catholicism, look to what the Church teaches, not to what the average Catholic thinks" in the one case, why not the other?

Stephen Law said...

Hi Edward

You say:

"Suppose, finally, that you also think there are demonstrative (as opposed to merely inductive or evidential) arguments for the existence of the God of classical theism -- that you endorse an Aristotelian argument from motion to a purely actual Unmoved Mover, say, or Aquinas’s “existence argument” in On Being and Essence for something that is subsistent being itself, or a Neo-Platonic argument for a source of the world that is an absolute unity. If such arguments work at all, then given the background metaphysics, they prove conclusively (and not merely with some degree of probability) that there is a God who cannot in principle be anything less than perfectly good."

Perhaps you have such an argument. In setting out the challenge, I don't claim you don't. This is the bit you still don't understand. The evil God challenge is a challenge. Perhaps the above meets it. Perhaps not. But the above does not show that that the challenge does not apply, i.e. because if correct it shows an evil god is impossible.

Showing an evil God is impossible is irrelevant, for the reasons I explained and which you still don't get.

Demonstrating there's a good god IS relevant, but it is simply a way of meeting the challenge, rather than showing it "does not apply".

You may think this is a fine distinction that doesn't matter much, but it does matter. Because it leaves the very powerfully formulated version of the problem of evil set up via the evil god challenge still on the table, rather than just swept aside on the grounds it "doesn't apply".

Do your medieval "demonstrations" that few philosophers find persuasive really carry much weight against my overwhelming empirical evidence that your God does not exist?

We'd need to examine them and find out. Though, as I say, the verdict of the philosophical community is already in.

I know you think that's because most philosophers don't really understand them. Actually, I am pretty familiar with arguments of your sort. I've even read your book on Aquinas.

In effect, your response to the evil god challenge is just to say *the evidential problem of evil* "doesn't apply" to your God. Because you can demonstrate your God exists.

As a response to the problem of evil, that's obviously hopelessly question-begging.

Anonymous said...

As a Protestant, I think theistic personalism (and therapeutic moralistic deism ala Smith) is more common in my circles than amongst my Catholic/Orthodox friends.

As a Baptist, I have no church tradition beyond the 16th century, and there is no church structure so we have Reformed, Fundamentalist, Sandy Creek, General, Particular, Missionary and many other Baptists which disagree on big doctrinal issues. Before seminary, I hadn't heard of Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Boethius or anyone else before Luther (unless Calvin quoted them). To most of my friends, God was a big superhero who probably had arms, legs and the like (something akin to the Mormon gods) and was a great being among other beings. Fortunately, those of us within the Reformed perspective had a higher conception of God than that, but still were disconnected from much of the philosophical/theological tradition.

In seminary, I began to read the Reformed scholastics who breathed Aquinas (think Turretin). Their discussions of God were much different than my chats at home growing up.

Most of my Catholic friends on the other hand, who had gone to believing Catholic churches and taken the catechism seriously had a good grasp of classical theism. They were much better versed in the tradition as well.

I think this speaks to Landon's problem as well. Most of the evangelical apologists today are just as disconnected from the theological/philosophical tradition of the church as I was pre-seminary. Sure, some of them went to seminaries, but they went to Biola or TEDS and studied philosophy for the most that began with Alvin Plantinga. They seem to think that arguments for God's existence came into being around the time of Descartes and really took form in the 50s with Alvin Plantinga. Thus, many of them are are as ignorant of the tradition as the people in the pew.

Stephen Law said...

My response is here:

http://stephenlaw.blogspot.com/2011/11/fumbling-feser.html

Stephen Law said...

PS

"“Courtier’s reply,” anyone?

Though he dismisses them as “awful,” Law does not respond in any substantive way to the points I made in my critique. "

Actually, I did respond. It's you Edward that have failed to respond to my points. You just endlessly repeat you don't understand them, when I've explained them over and over. Well, now they are on my blog...

Edward Feser said...

Hello Stephen,

In effect, your response to the evil god challenge is just to say *the evidential problem of evil* "doesn't apply" to your God. Because you can demonstrate your God exists.

Nope, that's not it at all. That's something any old theist could claim: "I already independently know that God exists, on such and such grounds." But I'm not saying that. As I've said many times, my point is that the nature of classical theism, specifically, makes your "evil god challenge" irrelevant to it whether or not classical theism is true. And I've explained why, with arguments you continue to ignore rather than answer.

But your argument now sounds like it amounts to little more than the claim that the existence of evil is a challenge to the claim that there is no God. Which is just the ancient argument from evil warmed over rather than the novel challenge your "evil god challenge" was supposed to be!

Look, Stephen, here's the bottom line. If your "evil god challenge" really is something interestingly different from the argument from evil, that can only be because it stalemates the case for a good God's existence -- because it shows that any evidence that could be given for a good God is paralleled by evidence for an evil god, so that if we reject the latter (as we all do) then we have to reject the former as well. And as I keep pointing out, that's only going to work given a theistic personalist approach to theism, not a classical theist approach.

As you have before, you now seem to be retreating into this position on which the "evil god challenge" is really just the challenge of answering the problem of evil. Which, as I say, is not a new problem at all. In which case, why are we discussing your article when we could be discussing something that hasn't been said a million times before?

I think you're better off taking my advice and admitting that your "evil god challenge" doesn't apply to all forms of theism. That way you'd at least have something novel to say -- as you clearly thought you had -- that would at least apply to some forms of theism.

As to this "Here's what the 'philosophical community' thinks" stuff, really, Stephen, you've read my work. Do you think I really give a damn about that?

Probably not. But you evidently give a damn about it, which is bad enough. Well, here's a newsflash: The Appeal to Majority is still a fallacy even when the majority in question have Ph.D.s in philosophy. If Aquinas had appealed to what "the 'philosophical community' thinks" in his day, or Hegel to what "the 'philosophical community'" thought in his, they would have arrived at conclusions very different from yours. And just as fallaciously.

Anyway, good morning to you over in the UK. I'm off to bed!

Edward Feser said...

Whoops! In:

But your argument now sounds like it amounts to little more than the claim that the existence of evil is a challenge to the claim that there is no God.

the last few words should be "to the claim that there is a God."

OK, good night.

Andrew's Dad said...

I think part of the reason that the majority of debates center around theistic personalism is what Ed has said. The arguments of most modern atheists are ineffective against classical theism. Thus, your major Catholic thinkers aren't interested in debating modern atheists, because they are largely irrelevant to Catholic thought.

Henri De Lubac death with the great classical atheists, and most modern Catholic thought, including the work of the Holy Father, engages regularly with Nietzsche and the like, but why should they care about arguments that are irrelevant to them? For instance, if I'm at the store purchasing a turkey for dinner and someone comes up to me arguing that I shouldn't eat beef because it's fatty, I'm not going to engage in an argument unless I have an interest in defending the value of beef.

The problem is that many Protestant organizations support theistic personalism because some of the best Protestant apologists are theistic personalists. If Craig consistently wins debates arguing from a theistic personalist position (and he does), then they will keep giving him money. Furthermore, if he keeps winning debates in this manner, then young Protestant apologists are going to keep emulating him and thus take on his whole package of non-mainstream views (Molinism, God out of time then in time, Theistic Personalism, etc.).

Most mainstream theologians/writers simply aren't concerned with modern atheistic thought. Of those who seem familiar with the tradition, it seems that only Feser and a few of the guys at First Things care (Reno and David Hart, of which the latter is Orthodox).

Andrew's Dad said...

"Do your medieval "demonstrations" that few philosophers find persuasive really carry much weight against my overwhelming empirical evidence that your God does not exist?"

Few find them persuasive simply because post-Descartes, most philosophers are totally ignorant of them. Furthermore, you have yet to give any evidence that the God of classical theism, i.e. the God of two thousand years of Christian history, does not exist.

Aquinas3000 said...

I'd like to hear Law's criticisms of the arguments of Aquinas. That might be a more interesting discussion.

Felix said...

"If such arguments work at all, then given the background metaphysics, they prove conclusively (and not merely with some degree of probability) that there is a God who cannot in principle be anything less than perfectly good."

For me, this isn't even about whether God exist or not. We not even there yet! The question is whether classical theists, in their demonstration of God's existence, is open to the challange given by Dr Law. It seems to me that Dr Law is trying to put an argument into the mouths of classical theists that they never made. So unless he can provide empirical proof (since he's the one harping on about it) that arguments for God's existence made by classical theists are the same as the probabilistic arguments made by theistic personalists, his "challange" simply doesn't apply.

@ Landon: Maybe I'm missing something here, but since classical theism is affirmed by Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and mainstream (High Church) Protestants (which I am one), I don't see how defending classical theism is "broadening theism" in any sense, since it has been the historic understanding of God. In fact, classical thesim is the de fide (non-negotiable) teaching of the Catholic Church. Surely it is theistic personalism that is "broadening" the meaning?

By the by, Prof Feser will be glad to know that his "Little yellow book" is making rounds even in "exotic" (by American standards :)) sunny South Africa. Greetings from Joburg!

Brent Stubbs said...

Admittedly, most lay Christians I know believe that God is outside of time, but they also believe that God can do things that are logically impossible, that things are right or wrong just because God says they are, that moral relativism is true, etc. Most lay Christians I know are deeply confused about philosophy, but could plausibly be said to prefer theistic personalism to classical theism.

It seems that the point of "preference" has been brought up more than once, as if philosophy were some kind of vocation for the novelist. Who cares what any lay Christian thinks. The average "lay" atheist has all kinds of wrong-headed ideas about theistic arguments, but no one is trying to argue that those arguments are more relevant than the one's posed by sophisticated atheists. What methinks this combox proves is that Law's arguments are of the species of the former and not the later or at least aimed at the lay Christian. If so, good for him. He shall make shallow converts.

I don't see how this would serve to make classical theism more palatable to contemporary theists… I do suspect that many modern Catholics simply assume Aquinas believed in the kind of personalist God they believe in.

The whole point of philosophy is to test the bounds of reason so as to obtain to an explanation of reality that is the most compelling. No classical theists (good philosopher) is going to require any philosopher to affirm an article of faith of revealed religion. Let's lay that red herring aside and get back to philosophy.

We'd need to examine them and find out. Though, as I say, the verdict of the philosophical community is already in.

The verdict of the science community was "in" at various stages of the development of quantum physics. That didn't stop them from re-examining their presuppositions moving forward. The problem I notice in the "philosophic community" is the insistence on a scientific method that provides some kind of warrant for a belief that becomes "doxastic state" as soon as it suits one's fancy and then immediately is fought for in a way that makes a theist blush. The tone of our "TruthOverfaith" friend proves this.

Eric said...

OK, I think I finally understand what Professor Law is claiming (thanks to his latest blog post, Fumbling Feser):

If the classical theist claims that an evil god is impossible, the challenge still applies, for the classical theist must then *show* that such a god must be good. In other words, Professor Law's dispute is with whether, in such a case, the EGC would be *irrelevant* or whether it would be *met*. He would claim that, given the success of such an argument (for a necessarily good god), the EGC would be met, not shown to be irrelevant, whereas Professor Feser would say that in such a case, the challenge would be shown to be irrelevant. (Of course, Professor Law would dispute the claim that there is such a successful demonstration, and that the challenge has been met, but that's not what's at issue here: what's at issue is whether such a proof would meet or render irrelevant the EGC).

Does that sound about right?

machinephilosophy said...

I've read the original Religious Studies article. Where's the argument for the premise that evil exists?

machinephilosophy said...

Also, where does the criteria for analyzing questions about good and evil get it's authority to adjudicate good and evil in the first place?

That kind of meta-good itself has more problems than the original divine goodness under scrutiny, functioning as a supervisory standard already at the beginning of the analysis.

"Was I a -good- judge of good and evil today, mommy?"
"Oh yes, you were -very- good about that today! I ran the experiment whose results implied it, and that told me -exactly- what to think! Isn't science wonderful now that it has everything worked out for what we scientifically ought to think or do at any point in the spacetime continuum?"

Tony Lloyd said...

I’ve been puzzling over your argument with Stephen and the reactions of many theists to the Evil God challenge.

It’s made clearer in the above post with:

“Law claims that the evidence for the existence of a good God is no better than the evidence for the existence of an evil god”

This is not the case, or at least not in the version of the Evil God Challenge that convinced me. The Evil God challenge is that the evidence against the existence of an evil God is not materially better than the evidence against a good God.

The argument relies modus tollens, not in undermining premises nor in establishing an alternative modus ponens.

I think you have been trying to refute the wrong argument.

John said...

Tangent:

Isn't Plantinga a classical theist?

It says so here http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=2493

Mark Szlazak said...

Prof. Law's argument seems to say that the evidence of "good" and "evil" in the world isn't good enough to argue for either a good or evil God.

You can't make the case either way this way because the data is ambiguous. If you try to for one position then an equal case can be made for the other.

However, don't bother because this type of argument is bogus either way.

If this is what Prof. Law is saying then I don't see why classical or personal theism is even affected.

BUT I really don't know the difference between "classical" and "personal" theism. Can anyone give me a synopsis? Thanks.

machinephilosophy said...

The troll problem would practically disappear if there were:

Hide this comment
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links below each comment.

But ease of use is a political no-no as any kind of priority value in programming environments, in some ways similar to anti-intellectualism about philosophy. Same general thinking patterns.

Anonymous said...

"You can't make the case either way this way because the data is ambiguous. If you try to for one position then an equal case can be made for the other. "

This is in agreement with Craig's position: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=9162

The Deuce said...

This part really illustrates that Law doesn't get it:

"But supposing it wasn't an impossibility, would an evil god not in any case be pretty conclusively ruled out on empirical grounds - e.g. given the amount of good we observe?"

For the classical theist, this is a bit like saying "Even though it's an impossibility, can't we pretty conclusively rule out square circles on empirical grounds?" It's just a nonsense statement. A square circle isn't a coherent concept for which evidence for or against can even be identified and measured. It's impossible to say what evidence "for" or "against" it would even hypothetically look like, because "it" isn't even hypothetically a real thing. Likewise, a "god" that is like the God of classical theism, only evil, isn't a coherent concept, so it's impossible to say what would even count as "evidence" for or against it

monk68 said...

Possibly Stephen Law is an atheistic personalist. He sums up Dr. Feser’s position by writing:

“In effect, your response to the evil god challenge is just to say *the evidential problem of evil* "doesn't apply" to your God. Because you can demonstrate your God exists.”

To utilize a phrase like “the evidential problem of evil”, is to implicitly behave as if everyone knows what one is talking about when employing the term “evil” (the same goes for the term “good”). If we are going to talk about evidence for “evil”, especially overwhelming evidence, we had best have some ontic notion of “evil” to which we can ascribe (presumably empirical) evidence. One of the first necessities of a fruitful dialectic is to define terms. Hence, the question: “What do you mean by the terms ‘good’ and ‘evil’”, seems to be a blindingly obvious starting point. But the moment such a question is posed, even in a Phil 101 course; it becomes immediately evident that any answer proffered cannot avoid committing itself to a whole series of explicit or implicit positions within the philosophy of nature and ontology.

What is the ontological foundation which gives communicable conceptual content to Law’s use of the ethical predicate terms “good” and “evil”, to which he routinely appeals? I have no idea. Or perhaps he would say that his private notion of the ontological status of terms such as “good” and ‘evil” is irrelevant to his argument. He needs only run the argument according to the conceptual content which theists themselves ascribe to these terms. In either case, until he puts forward the ontological grounds which, within the context of his argument, are doing the work of providing conceptual content to the terms “good and “evil”; his challenge suffers from a critical equivocation. This I take to be a central problem in Law’s thesis, and the principle reason why he and Dr. Feser seem to be talking past each other.

Consider a brief sketch of the classical theist approach to the conceptual content of the predicate terms “good” and “evil”. The classical theist position is reached by way of a carefully developed philosophy of nature, wherein the problem of the conceptual content of terms like “good” and “evil” is considered rigorously from an ontic POV. If such terms are to avoid being rendered as mere subjective psychological notions, they must somehow be grounded in the real, in the philosophy of nature and ontology. Hence, it is argued by classical theists that the world of observable existents manifests a wide array of knowable, definable, natures with knowable sets of intrinsic capacities; some existents with greater capacities than others. Accordingly, the cosmos is observed to be composed of beings which exhibit a gradient of capacities which can be arranged in a hierarchical order according to each thing’s capacities to act or be acted upon. A thing’s goodness is determined both by its intrinsic capacities and by the degree to which those capacities are, in fact, actualized. This ontological gradient then, serves as the fundamental basis for assigning degrees of “goodness” (properly ‘physical’ good) to things in observable experience according to a “hierarchy of being”. The conceptual notion of physical “evil” is only analogous. It is better rendered as imperfection, or lacking some capacity or capacities or actualization found among other existents. Unlike the term “good”, the term “evil” used in this sense has not any positive content or ontic reference. It is simply a contrarian term used to describe the lack of, or privation of, some finite aspect of being.

cntd . . .

monk68 said...

In addition to this hierarchy of capacitive degrees which establishes the order of “good”, “better”, “best” generally; each existent, taken separately, is termed “good” or “better” to the degree that its capacities are, in fact, actualized. And this, in turn, entails that capacities be actualized in a certain harmony which maximizes the number and degree of capacities brought to fulfillment. For excessive development of one capacity is observed to hinder, or halt altogether, the development of others. Hence, an individual existent is said to be “good” or “better” to the degree that its capacities are harmoniously coordinated to their maximal actualization. IOW, a thing is said to exist more fully, or share a greater participation in being, to the degree that its capacities are actualized in a harmonious way: and it is this ontic “degree” which underwrites the classical theist’s use of the terms “good” or “better” when predicated of individual existents. When some existent which possesses no apparent self-consciousness of that harmonious order of activity which maximizes its fulfillment, ultimately fails to reach such fulfillment; to the degree that it so fails, it may be said to be “evil” in a restricted sense. Specifically, the term “evil” is employed analogously to conceptually cover the notion of imperfection or lack of ontic fulfillment, or lack of being. It has no positive ontic referent in itself.

Finally, while the active capacities of most existents within our experience are actualized either by external agents, or else by intrinsic principles of which the existent is not self-consciously aware; human beings appear uniquely conscious of that proper ordination or harmony-of-activity which maximizes actualization of human capacities resulting in the “good” (fully actualized) man or woman. Hence, human beings are observed to be uniquely capable of playing a conscious, active role in maximizing or inhibiting the harmonious actualization of human capacities in themselves and others. Acts ordered to such harmonious actualization are called “good” acts, whereas acts which retard such harmonious actualization are called “evil” acts. Such is the ontic grounds for the use of the terms “good” and “evil” in an ethical or moral context. Again, “evil” in this construal has not a positive ontic quality, since it is precisely a non-actualization, or prevention of the fulfillment of a capacity. It is a disorder of actualized capacities, a negation, a privation, a failure of proper relation.

In tandem with consideration of the ontic grounds for ethical predicate terms noted above, the classical theist, again starting from ontology and philosophy of nature, considers questions of contingency and causality, which lead to demonstration of ultimate reality as an uncaused, subsistent maximal actualization of all possible capacities (Unmoved Mover, Actus Purus, Subsitent Being Itself) as a necessary condition for “saving the appearances” of (i.e. explaining) our contingent experience. Clearly, IF the above ontic account of the conceptual-content of “good” and “evil” terms is coherent; and IF the demonstration of ultimate reality as Actus Purus and Subsistent Being work, THEN the claim that “God” just is “Goodness”, per se, follows given the grounds which underwrite the conceptual content of the term “good”.

cntd . . .

monk68 said...

All this amounts to little else than a restatement of the traditional argument for the convertibility of “Being” and “Good”. That’s how the classical theist establishes a non-subjective conceptual framework for ethical predicate terms such as “good” and ‘evil”; by linking their conceptual content to an ontic interpretation of observed experience. In such a view, one can intelligibly say that God is responsible for the gradient capacities found throughout the cosmos, and so, for the relative imperfections of all finite existents. He also is responsible, via continual creation, for the ontic conditions which entail that some existents are unable to actualize some of their capacities. God can, in that way, be said to be responsible for “physical evil”. But given that “evil” in this context has no ontic reference, how can the creation and sustaining of dissimilar existents (which necessarily entails a gradient of perfections) support the notion that God is “evil” in any ontic sense? Given the conceptual content of the term, it cannot. Likewise, God is responsible for continual creation of human beings and all the existents with which they interact; and thus responsible for the ontic conditions which make man’s moral acts possible, including disordered acts. But God is not responsible for human intentional activity which brings about disordered relations of finite beings (goods). God is only responsible for the relative ontic goods which make the intentional disorder possible. In no case do we find “God” responsible for anything that might be intelligibly described as “evil”, for “evil” is “no-thing” in any ontic sense. All of this concerns the doctrine of “evil” as privation of being.

My overall point is this; when the classical theist gets done developing his ontology, the terms “good” and “evil” have acquired a specific ontic status as a result of a well developed philosophy of nature. Such a developed account takes notice of all the sorts of empirical evidence for “evil” that Law brings to the table (millions of years of “nature red in tooth and claw”, suffering children, immoral human actions, etc). It grounds such data in a well developed ontology, free of subjective-emotive table-pounding. In short, the classical theist knows what he means when he uses the terms “good” and “evil” – he is not equivocating. Not withstanding all the empirical data that Law puts forward, the classical theist will not be moved from his position that God remains – demonstrably – “Good”. And the reason for this is not because the classical theist has put his finger in his ear, or hand over his eyes, in the face of overwhelming “evidence” against his position. Rather, it is because the classical theist has carefully considered the kinds of evidence which Law thinks so damning IN THE CONTEXT of what it can possibly mean to predicate the qualitative terms “good” and “evil” of any existent thing or set of things in the first place. To have any impact on classical theism, Law must dig underneath the terms “good” and “evil” as he is employing them in his argument. He must argue for why the conceptual content of those terms must be incompatible with the ontic-based conceptual content championed by classical theism. The moment he picks up his shovel to dig beneath these ethical predicate terms, he will be knee deep in ontology and philosophy of nature. Then, and only then, will he be in a position to dialogue with his classical theistic counterparts; for they have been digging in that soil for quite some time.

cntd . . .

monk68 said...

To meet the traditional position that “evil is a privation of being” with a roll of the eyes; or simply note that such a view is currently unpopular in philosophic circles, is mere hand-waiving. An all too common bluff put forward by those who have done little heavy lifting when it comes to considering the meaning of ethical predicates in relation to ontology. The privation position has been argued by some of the greatest philosophical minds in the history of mankind and has been honed and developed within the context of a board, well conceived, PON and metaphysics for more than two millennia. No surprise it easily escapes Law’s challenge. Evil as privation is a position rarely argued against effectively, precisely because of the much wider philosophical venues which must be explored and addressed in order to effect a serious rebuttal.

Untenured said...

@monk68:

That was rock solid, friend.

21st Century Scholastic said...

@John: saying "i am a classical theist" doesn't turn someone into a classical theist (and, of course, neither does affirming "Plantinga is a classical theist"). On the other hand, even theistic personalism is more "classical" (that is, more in line with the traditional position) than process theism! Here's why the Basingers chose to use the term "classical theism" (probably).

Paul said...

Amen.

I still fail to understand how an argument labeling itself the "Evil God Challenge" can offer no useful working definitions either of the words "Evil" or "God".

Not being a philosopher, there is no way I can come close to the critique offered by Dr Feser and others on this blog, but suffice it to say that I at last feel able to rule out the EGC as significant for the following reasons.

1) A lack of defined terms (see above).
2) Dr Law seems to be unable to communicate his challenge with adequate clarity.
3) That being the case, what conceivable difference will this make to the average believer?
4) After repeated requests to Dr Law that we run the EGC together - so that I can better understand it - I cannot persuade him to do so. I may not be his intellectual equal, but wouldn't I be exactly the sort of person to whom Dr Law would want to deliver his 'Good News'.

Oh well, I will continue to do my best but until Dr Law can come up with a challenge that I can make sense of it seems to me that I can continue to believe in God without offending my faculties or my faith.

God bless you, Dr Law.

Stephen Law said...

Edward, you say:

“But your argument now sounds like it amounts to little more than the claim that the existence of evil is a challenge to the claim that there is no God.”

Ah right the penny has finally dropped. It is indeed a way of developing that traditional challenge and refining it somewhat.

“Which is just the ancient argument from evil warmed over rather than the novel challenge your "evil god challenge" was supposed to be!”

Warmed over, eh?! Charming. Well, the evil God challenge is a way of developing the evidential problem of evil in such a way that very many standard theistic responses are neutralized or revealed to be hopelessly inadequate. Because, it turns out, those responses work just as well in defence of an evil god. The key point is, the evil god hypothesis remains straightforwardly empirically falsified on the basis of what we see around us, notwithstanding the reverse theodicies I consider.

That’s what makes this way of developing the challenge posed by evil somewhat unusual, and worthy of inclusion in the journal Religious Studies, apparently.

Obviously, you’re not terribly impressed. It’s just the evidential problem of evil “warmed over”, you say. But let’s look at an illustration of the evil god challenge in action.

One author dismisses the evidential problem of evil as an argument against the existence of God as “worthless”. Why is it worthless? The author sweeps the problem to one side because they suppose it’s entirely dealt with by two points. The first point is: they suppose we can look forward to a limitless afterlife in which we’ll enjoy the beatific vision, and this is going to more than compensate us for all the horror we experience in this life. The author quotes St. Paul, who said: “the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us.” The second point the author makes is this: that the pain etc. we experience now is the price paid for greater goods to be gained later. They illustrate by pointing out how suffering of child being forced to learn the violin is the price justifiably paid for great good of that child’s later being able to play violin (they admit this isn’t suffering on quite the scale of Auschwitz, but insist the same basic principle applies). Indeed, this particular author adds that, by supposing evil constitutes good evidence against a good God, the atheist is just assuming there’s no God and thus no wondrous afterlife etc. that more than compensates the evils we experience now. So the atheist’s argument based on suffering is hopelessly circular. Indeed, this author says that atheists who run such an argument need “a course in logic”!

... CONTINUED IN NEXT POST

Stephen Law said...

CONTINUED FROM PREVIOUS COMMENT...

But now here’s where the evil God challenge comes in. All these points made above can be flipped in defence of belief in an evil dod. A defender of belief in an evil god can say we can look forward to an afterlife of unremitting terror and suffering, and this will more than compensate us for any good enjoyed now. Moreover, these goods we experience now are actually the price paid for greater evils (I give loads of examples in my paper). Moreover, by assuming that the goods we see around us constitute good evidence against an evil God, the evil-god-rejecter is just assuming there’s no evil God and thus no hellish afterlife that more than “outweighs” the goods. So these objection against belief in an evil god are hopelessly circular. Clearly, this critic of the evil god hypothesis needs” a course in logic”!

Now, despite the above moves that might be made in defence of belief in an evil God, it remains pretty obvious that there’s just way, way too much good stuff in the world for this plausibly to be considered the creation of an evil God.

In fact, most of us (except e.g. the sceptical theists) will continue to consider the evil god hypothesis absurd on empirical grounds (whether or not also on other grounds), notwithstanding these rather ridiculous attempts at explaining all the good stuff away.

Of course, none of this is to say that the evil God challenge cannot be met. For example, the author in question might perhaps come up with some really argument for the existence of a good god, and argument that’s so very, very compelling that it more than outweighs the mountain of evidence against such a god constituted by the vast quantities of horror and suffering we see around us (but boy it’s going to have to be a really good argument!).

But that’s what this particular author needs to do to really meet the evil god challenge. Otherwise, their attempts to deal with the problem of evil have been exposed as hopelessly inadequate. Despite all the dismissive posturing about critics needing a “course in logic”.

So who is the author in question?

He is the author of a book called “The Last Superstition” (see pages 161-165)

That’s to say, it’s you, Edward.

BenYachov said...

Proof Law,

For your criticism of Feser's statements on pages 161-165 to work you have to not define evil as privation and treat it as ontologically identical but opposite with good.

Which would be successful if that is the case in regards to good vs evil. But if evil is still privation then your argument still makes no sense. Since a evil god could not exist & also could not create.

Oh sir what would you do without the fallacy of equivocation and the undistributed middle?

Well at least you are trying.

Stephen Law said...

BenY. Evil is not a privation, as any fule kno. Though even if it were, you would then be running an impossibility argument of the sort I've already dispensed with.

Untenured said...

@Stephen Law:

I don't think Ed is addressing the evidential problem of evil in those passages that you quote. There, I think he is addressing the logical problem of evil which is a distinct issue and can be successfully dealt with in other ways.

We've winnowed this debate down to its Crux, and it is up to you now to either retrench your position or throw in the towel.

To repeat, as Ed, and I, and monk68, and Crude, and several others have already repeated to no avail:

If the Classical Theist has a sound argument that God both exists and could not fail to be good, there is no remaining "evidential" problem of evil. If any of the Five Ways are sound, then the evidential problem of evil never even gets off the ground. We will know that God is good, and necessarily so, and on the basis of an empirically indefeasible demonstration.

As we keep pointing out, the proofs for Classical Theism establish that God both exists and is good. Moreover, they establish these truths in such a fashion that no conceivable amount of empirical evidence could possibly overturn them.

That's it. The evidential problem of evil is overcome en passent by the metaphysical background which underpins the Five Ways. If any of those Five Ways succeed, the only thing the Classical Theist has to do is answer the logical problem of evil. And the logical problem of evil can be easily put to bed, as even a majority of Atheists in the philosophy of religion will now concede.

You keep assuming that sound metaphysical demonstrations would have to be weighed against empirical evidence even if we know they are sound. I'm sorry but that is just confused.

Paul said...

"Evil is not a privation, as any fule kno."

Perhaps you could explain why, Dr Law. Thanks in advance, as I'm hoping you can shed some more light on your arguments.

DNW said...

machinephilosophy said...

I've read the original Religious Studies article. Where's the argument for the premise that evil exists?
November 14, 2011 6:26 AM

machinephilosophy said...

Also, where does the criteria for analyzing questions about good and evil get it's authority to adjudicate good and evil in the first place?"


Yes. And if I say so largely because my thinking has demonstrably run in the same direction, then so be it.

I'm prone to want to immediately move ahead to the point of granting Law his conclusion of "no-God"; and to then require of Law what sense, on those terms, it would make to even speak of good or evil in the seemingly arbitrative (I'm borrowing this apposite term from another commenter) senses he ultimately tends to deploy them: as quasi-metaphysical values bearing some relevance to the soundness - or maybe just validity? - of arguments concerning the existence of a God.

But if we grant a utilitarian definition of good, as Law's version of the substitution instance game requires, the argument of the giddy Good-Godists, is over before it begins; since good is so trivially defined as to render it useless as a "pointer" to some larger domain of being, which might more meaningfully be envisioned as underlying or conditioning whatever sensation is interpreted as pleasing or not pleasing.

The Catholics posting here have made that point repeatedly.

The problem of justifying the use of the term "evil" in Law's substitution instance paradigm or exercise, doesn't go away simply because Law may appear to imply that he is using the term "evil" in the same sense as an unreflective cultural-Christian might; i.e., as a utilitarian determined synonym for some thing or event or motive experienced as unpleasant.

Although he might on that kind of premise possibly get away with a deductive exercise wherein he attempts to invalidate a certain kind of a "good-god exists" argument derived from the Tom T. Hall school of musical theology, by using evil-god substitution instances; the demonstration only extends so far as there is some general agreement on the meaning of the term "evil".

Which, Feser and others have repeatedly asserted, and it seems virtually everyone now agrees, is not the case.

If any evidence is required that Law views the terms "evil" and "good" in a presumptively non-theistic and overtly utilitarian manner one needs to look no further than his weird comments about the suffering sentient beings of the past.

Is it their journey into non-existence, or is it the "pain" they suffered that constitutes the explanation of the "evil" they have suffered and to which we are now invited to advert? And if the subjective and psychological quality of some experience renders it good or evil, how is it that we can sort out with any objective certainty which is which?

Where is the reference point?

Could we be justified in saying that permanently anesthetized people, drifting in a pleasant dream state can suffer no evil outside their dream?

A million humans winked out of existence painlessly in their sleep by some new killing technology, and there is no evil because there is no fear nor pain nor any intention to inflict any?

It's hard to know what to make of Law's own implied standard of value, and whether he really thinks that the "evil" he uses as a predicate in his substitution instances is even a meaningful enough term to function in place of a logical variable "in the real world".

BenYachov said...

>Evil is not a privation,

Which is a valid response to Dr. Feser belief's and I say that as a big fan of his.

But Classic Theists argue that it is a privation which has been the point we have been trying to make.

Feser has said as much.

Why is that so hard?

Untenured said...

Correction: I should have said "If any of the Five Ways are sound, and they converge on the God of Classical theism, then the evidential problem of evil never gets off the ground.

DNW said...

Shoot ...


I'd left this window open while I left the office ... and on returning thoughtlessly posted instead of reviewing the content a second time.

My comments have already been rendered moot, and the ontology point I only alluded to, covered in detail by others.


DNW

BenYachov said...

>Though even if it were, you would then be running an impossibility argument of the sort I've already dispensed with.

Proof Law agree or disaree? It is an objective brute fact it is impossible to refute a Pantheistic concept of God by refuting the Kalam Cosmological argument!

True or false?

Stephen Law said...

Hi Untenured. You said:

"I don't think Ed is addressing the evidential problem of evil in those passages that you quote. There, I think he is addressing the logical problem of evil which is a distinct issue and can be successfully dealt with in other ways."

Feser says he is addressing "the argument from evil" of atheists. Which is pretty sloppy. He makes no distinction between the two problems.

But if he was dealing only with the logical problem then his claim to have dealt with "the problem of evil" as raised by atheists would just be a fib.

And in any case it's very clear he is trying to deal with the evidential problem as he is talking about goods which supposedly outweigh "all this suffering". All of it.

Untenured said...

@Stephen Law:

Okay. Sure. Great.

But, focusing our attention away from the trees and back onto the forest, why would Ed need to be offering a response to the evidential argument from evil if he has sound arguments for a being that is both God and that is good? That is the real question here, and the question that we are waiting for you to answer for us with baited breath.

(I'll let Ed answer the question of whether he needed to advertise his response as directed at the logical POV as opposed to the evidential POV. I thought it was clear from the philosophical context, but I can't answer on Ed's behalf. But I'm pretty sure I know what he'll say.)

Tony Lloyd said...

“Which is just the ancient argument from evil warmed over rather than the novel challenge your "evil god challenge" was supposed to be!”

I don't see the Evil God argument as a re-hash of the argument from evil or as a new argument against God.

I see it as a meta-argument, an argument that you should accept the argument from evil, warmed up or straight-from-the-fridge cold.

(Ok, you can't get a cigarette paper between this and Stephen's "extension of", but when I started thinking of the argument in my meta-argument terms I became convinced by it).

You accept the refutation of Evil-God, whatever the arguments in favour of evil-God.

Here I depart from Stephen. Stephen always talks of a "challenge" and ask "why not God?". I've decided I know why not. You do accept the refutation of Evil-God and no argument will persuade you to reject that refuation. There is more than adequate evidence to conclusively refute Evil-God and you, rationally, reject his existence.

There is the same evidence against God yet you do not accept the refutation. I do not see the need to ask "why not"? It is perfectly clear, the existence of one entity is rationally rejected, the other irrationally clung on to.

Mateus said...

Mr. Law,

Your last response seems to contain three parts: in the first, you expose the objections brought by Feser against the incompatibility between the existence of a (good) God and the existence of Evil. In the second, you said that similar objections can be said against the incompatibility between an Evil God (or, to be more precise, an Evil Creator) and the existence of goods of the world. In the third part, you explain the Evil God Challenge. First, you say that there is too much good in the world, on empirical grounds, to render the hypothesis of an Evil Creator probable. Second, if that’s true of an Evil Creator because the amounts of good, then it’s true also of God and Evil – they are ruled out on empirical grounds. Please, correct me if I am wrong and point the specific part where my fail is.

Now, this seems to be Feser’s response. He is saying that this “rule out of a (good) God” is not a worry to the classical theist, (like Aquinas, say), because he has two cards in the hand: (1) he has an demonstration of the existence of a “Pure Act” (or similar, if he is a Neo-Platonist, etc) and (2) given the traditional metaphysics that underlies this demonstration, the hypothesis of the “Pure Act” as an Evil Being is just not possible.

Now, if you want to put the classical theist in a worry, you have to refute either (1) or (2). Considerations about empirical amounts of good or evil are irrelevant given (1) (i.e., you cannot defeat a demonstration with and empirical consideration, and they claim to have a demonstration) and (2) (given the demonstration plus the background metaphysics, he is necessarily good).

Please remember what Feser said in his post:
In answering, Law should remember that it will not do to say: “Well, I don’t think the doctrine of privation, the doctrine or the transcendentals, divine simplicity, etc. are correct and/or that the attempted demonstration in question is sound.” For in that case, it will be the various specific criticisms of these various metaphysical and epistemological assumptions that will be doing the philosophical work, and not the evil god challenge itself. He should remember also that it will not do to say: “If we don’t make these various classical theistic background assumptions in metaphysics and epistemology, then the ‘evil god challenge’ applies.” For that is true but completely trivial.

So, please reply:
(a) If (1) and (2) are present, there can be an Evil God Challenge or the challenge would be meet?
(b) If the challenge is meet, then the point would not to be, for an atheist, to refute either (1) or (2) and not to run an Evil God Challenge?

Thank for your attention,
Mateus

BenYachov said...

>Feser says he is addressing "the argument from evil" of atheists. Which is pretty sloppy. He makes no distinction between the two problems.

Of course there is your lack of a functional definition of Good & evil stated anywhere in your argument.

You sweeping under the rug of the differences between a Classical vs Personist view of God.

Your sweeping under the rug the difference between moral evil vs other types of evil or moral agents vs not being a moral agent.

Your letting it slip you don't believe evil is a privation(which is lovely but as Feser said if you prove Evil is not metaphysically a privation and refute the privation argument then that is doing the heavy lifting against the Classic View of God not your evil god thought experiment.

There is no way out for you sir.

You have an excellent weapon in the EGC to pimp slap any Theistic Personalist "god".

But if I was an Atheist I would use it to attack a classic view of God. Anymore than I would use Wes Morrison's polemics against the Kalam to refute a Pantheist.

Them's the breaks guy.

BenYachov said...

edit:should say

BenYachov said...

edit:should say "Wouldn't use it against a classic Theist god etc"

Mateus said...

Tony Lloyd,

that would be a problem if (a) the situations of Evil Creator and God are exactly parallel and (b) Feser have said that he dont believe in an Evil Creator because an Evil Creator is refuted thankfully to the amount of the good in the world. In that case, given (a), God would also be refuted.

Now, you say that "You accept the refutation of Evil-God, whatever the arguments in favour of evil-God. " But Feser never did any of this. His belief in a good Creator (God), he claims, is back-up by a demonstration that rules ou the Evil Creator hypothesis, not because the amount of the good (denying "b"). He also denies (a) - there is a demonstration for the good Creator and there isnt to the Evil Creator. So you are complaining for nothing.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

I think that the distinction between the God of the older scholastic tradition and of the more modern personalist tradition is spurious. If one describes God in two different ways it does not follow that at most one of them is the right one, for perhaps both are right. So, I’d like to suggest, the former tradition describes God in-itself, and the latter tradition describes God in-creation, or God to-us. To put it plainly you will never meet “pure actuality” but you will meet the person who by suffering on the cross atoned the whole of creation. The former tradition is highly conceptual while the latter highly experiential. Both I think are useful. In any case all theists accept St Anselm’s definition of God, and that definition entails God’s perfectly good nature. Thus any argument about an “evil god” is irrelevant to theism.

Now Stephen says he is not putting forward an argument but a challenge, but I am having trouble understanding what exactly that challenge is. I agree with him that the problem of evil applies to all theistic traditions – whether scholastic or personalist. But then, what exactly is the challenge? Perhaps what he wants to suggest is that any possible theodicy will meet its defeater in the inverted idea that the world we experience might have been created by an evil god. I take it his idea is that to the degree a suggested theodicy is plausible, an inverse theodicy will be similarly plausible. Now a theodicy is about explaining why the god of perfect goodness would want to create a world just like the one we experience. Suppose the atheist succeeds in demonstrating that the god of perfect evil would also want to create a world just like the one we experience. So what? The argument from evil tries to reveal an internal incoherence of theism, an irresolvable tension between the nature of God and the nature of creation. If the theist succeeds to show that no such incoherence exists, then the fact that an evil-god ontology is also free of the respective incoherence is entirely irrelevant.

Nightvid said...

But you are just pushing the problem back one step: from your hypotheses to your epistemology. If you are entitled to "build in" all of classical theism's God's attributes into a single one (necessary-omnipotent-omniscient-and-omnibenevolent), and defend it by saying it is part of your epistemology, then a believer in EvilGod is also entitled to do the same, to take on an epistemology which assumes as a single, undissociable attribute "necessary-omnipotent-omniscient-and-omniMALevolent" and defend it by saying it is part of their epistemology. If there is any reason this would fail, it should also apply to a good God. Hence you have failed to evade the Evil God Challenge.

Why don't theists ever actually address the point?

Edward Feser said...

Stephen,

I see that you’ve added the Red Herring to Appeal to Majority in your toolkit of fallacies. Yes, I discuss the problem of evil in TLS (evidential and logical – both are completely disarmed given the metaphysical apparatus underlying classical theism). And yes, I am quite dismissive of it there. But so what? Let the problem of evil in either form be as mighty as you want it to be. What we were talking about is the “evil god challenge” in particular, not the problem of evil (in either form) more generally. I am happy to say that the problem of evil applies to classical theism, even if it is also easily answered by it – I’ve never claimed otherwise. What is at issue, and what has always been at issue between you and me, is whether the “evil god challenge,” specifically, even applies to classical theism. And it doesn’t, as I’ve shown many times now. (No point in repeating the points again, since you’ll just keep ignoring them. For example, you ignore them when you assert that your “evil god” stalemate approach applies to what I said about evil in TLS. Well, it would apply to it if I had defended a theistic personalist view of God in TLS, but since I defend a classical theist view there, it doesn’t apply. And if you insist that it does apply to classical theism too, then I guess we can add Begging the Question to your toolkit too.)

Your way of avoiding this basic problem is by flitting between two senses of your expression “evil god challenge.” In one sense it has to do with stalemating arguments for theism by showing that evidence for an evil god is no worse than evidence for a good God, so that if we reject the former we ought to reject the latter. But when it is pointed out to you that this stalemating strategy makes no sense when applied to classical theism, suddenly the “evil god challenge” just becomes a synonym for the evidential problem of evil, which I’ve never denied can intelligibly be raised against classical theism. “The existence of evil is incompatible with, or at least improbable given, God’s existence” is at least intelligible, even if easily answered. “A God as God is conceived of in classical theism might turn out to be an evil god” is unintelligible given what “God” entails in classical theist metaphysics. Sorry if that makes your “evil god challenge” less badass than you think it is, but them’s the breaks.

(continued)

Edward Feser said...

(continued)

So, it is no good equivocating on “evil god challenge” as a way to salvage your position. It just trivializes it. It is also no good heaping scorn on the privation view of evil as you keep doing, as if the scorn somehow magically transformed the “evil god challenge” into a threat to classical theism. Let the privation view be as stupid as you think it is. It doesn’t change the fact that (a) classical theists are typically committed to it, (b) given the privation view together with the other metaphysical theses of classical theism, an ”evil God” is unintelligible, and therefore (c) the stalemating strategy doesn’t intelligibly apply to classical theism. If you want to show that the privation view is wrong, fine, but (as I keep saying) in that case it is the criticisms of the privation view that will be doing the philosophical work against classical theism, not the “evil god challenge.”

By the way, “Religious Studies published it” is not a good argument. Just like, you know, “The ‘philosophical community’ thinks such-and-such” is not a good argument and “Every fool knows that the privation view is stupid” is not a good argument. And just like “Let’s expand the meaning of the expression ‘evil god challenge’ so as to avoid falsification” is not a good argument. Not that you need “a course in logic” or anything.

And it’s quite rich for you to call my discussion in TLS “sloppy” when (as commenters here have pointed out) you consistently use terms like “evil” and “god” and an ill-defined way, ignoring the crucial differences between classical theist vs. theistic personalist conceptions of God and privation vs. non-privation views of evil. But then, that’s your whole defense against my criticisms, as it turns out: keep the key terms vague so that you can shift your ground whenever necessary.

Gil S. said...

Stephen Law,

We can both play this “parallel” game. For classical theism, your argument is no better than a “square-circle” challenge. Except you treat it more like a “black-circle” challenge. If this is all the issue amounted to, then the same geometric calculations that apply to a white circle would indeed apply to a black circle. However, the problem is you assume that goodness is parallel to the whiteness of a circle and evil is parallel to the blackness of a circle. The scholastic rejects this notion, as was explained to you dozens of times. Their metaphysical system encompasses a very different notion of being, and by consequence, a different notion of what God is, what goodness is, and what evil is. To them your challenge is nothing but a ridiculous attempt at saying that a square circle can have the same geometric calculations applied to it. It does not matter how many squares you observe in reality, that does not make the circle a square circle. You can reject their notion of an evil god as a square circle but your challenge is sure as heck not going to do the job as it would just beg the question. You’ll need to show how a circle is not actually spherical (i.e, God is not actually Pure Actuality) and/or how a square is not actually a square (i.e, evil is not a privation of being) but each of these strategies involve the use of different arguments.

Try again.

Tony Lloyd said...

Hi Mateus
“that would be a problem if (a) the situations of Evil Creator and God are exactly parallel”
Not if the evidence is so overwhelming against Evil-God, which it is, that the evidence against God can fall short and still be conclusive. Evil-God is dismissed out-of-hand, Evil-God is not even seriously considered. How much less evidence than “enough to dismiss out of hand” is “enough to reject”? And is there that little evil in the world?
“(b) Feser have said that he dont believe in an Evil Creator because an Evil Creator is refuted thankfully to the amount of the good in the world.”
Doesn’t matter. What would matter would be if Feser would not reject anti-God were he unaware of his other arguments for God not being evil and neither would he reject anti-God were his arguments for the conceptual impossibility of anti-God to be discomfited.
Call Feser’s arguments against anti-God “A” and the Problem of Good “B”. If A and B are not both, separately, sufficient to refute anti-God then the absence of A would leave anti-God unrefuted. That would mean though that, despite the evidence against anti-God, Feser would not reject the notion that evil-God exists. I do not credit that, though Feser is in a position to correct me on that point.

monk68 said...

Stephen Law wrote:

"Though even if it were [if evil were a privation], you would then be running an impossibility argument of the sort I've already dispensed with."

Can someone please help me understand how a classical theistic / Aristotelian account of the predicate term "evil" as a privation of being, grounded in an observation-based philosophy of nature and ontology, cashes out as a Stephen Law-esque impossibility argument which has apparently been dispensed with? No doubt I have overlooked the obvious.

BenYachov said...

dguller the Atheist wrote this on Law's blog in reply to Tony Lloyd:

QUOTE"“The classical anti-God-theist version of anti-God basically says that anti-God is Pure Act, by virtue of the cosmological argument, for example, and that since he has no potential at all, being Pure Act, then his nature is fully actualized, and thus is “evil”. So, to say that anti-God might be “good” means a contradiction”

So, you would define “evil” as the actualization of a being’s nature? Okay. I can think of a number of examples of “good” being defined in this way, but can’t think of any examples of “evil”. Care to provide any? If you cannot, then I’m afraid that you are just calling “good” “evil” and “God” “anti-God”, but the referents remain the same. It would be like saying that 3 + 3 = 8, but only because “3” is the name for the number 4.END QUOTE

He gets it.

DNW said...

Stephen Law says,

"The key point is, the evil god hypothesis remains straightforwardly empirically falsified on the basis of what we see around us, notwithstanding the reverse theodicies I consider."


Ah, and I credited Mr. Law with *ultimately intending* what would in the final reduction ... be developed at some point or another ... and with sufficient refinements still to come ... into a pure substitution case based refutation.

Since it is evidently not the case, and since Law seeks instead to ground the impossibility of an evil god in an empirical evaluation rather than a logical explication of an ultimately invalid argument form ( I guess the good and evil scales are not just a stepping stone to be eventually discarded pending future refinements of the general argument), then we naturally ask, again, if Law's falsification of a good god, which is ostensibly based on an *empirical impossibility of accepting an evil god*, is itself falsified, by an historical falsification of that ostensible argument premiss.

That is to ask for the umpteenth time, if his falsification framework is not itself falsified by the historical and empirically demonstrable existence of Manichees, various sects conceiving of the Demiurge as an evil creator, or Persian Dualism? (all which have mentioned previously)

Don't these evil gods possess enough of the right kind of evil, and the right kind of god-ness, so as to rise to the level of becoming manifestly impossible to conceive of on the basis of an "empirical analysis"?

Obviously, whatever their merits, they were in fact taken seriously and believed in, on the basis of what some people through that time - including the age of Sextus Empiricus and after - imagined was evidence.

Didn't then, Zoroastrians or Manichees know anything about sunshine and flowers, and birds singing in the trees?

Maybe not. Perhaps that's how these beliefs in an evil god eventually disappeared: when these happy things were pointed out to them, and deluded believers in an evil god eventually realized that the concept of an evil god simply made no sense in world where warm breezes and tweeting birds and the laughter of children could be tossed on the scales against leprosy, and plague, and hopless slavery and tuberculosis of the bone.

Tony said...

Nightvid, the classical approach doesn't just posit the omnipotence= omnibenevolence = simplicity situation as an epistemological postulate. They develop the position in order to make sense of the results that come to be understood when you realize that God has to be the self-existent Ground of Existence, and (in independent argument) has to be as the Necessary being, and (in independent argument) has to be the Unmoved ultimate cause motion of those things that come to be in motion. None of these separate arguments are epistomological arguments.

And not a one of them can be "reversed" toward some reverse sort of God. They are not susceptible to that. What, are you going to suggest that the anti-god is the ultimate cause of cessation of motion of all those things that cease to move? Oddly, being the cause of cessation of motion would not point toward an anti-god in the least. Not, that is, given the prior metaphysical understanding of act and potency. Nothing can reverse-engineer act and potency toward some anti-god without leaving the entire concept of act and potency completely unintelligible. So you see, the metaphysical ground for the classical approach leaves no room whatsoever for an evil god.

Tony said...

monk68: Can someone please help me understand how a classical theistic / Aristotelian account of the predicate term "evil" as a privation of being, grounded in an observation-based philosophy of nature and ontology, cashes out as a Stephen Law-esque impossibility argument which has apparently been dispensed with? No doubt I have overlooked the obvious.

No, Monk, you didn't miss anything. Law claims that he "dispensed with" the impossibility argument, but he never did. He is just making it up. The closest he came to such an argument (if you want to count 179 degrees away under the term 'closest') is that if you set aside the impossibility for the moment, the rest of his argument has some cogency. And it's true, it does have cogency, against the kind of god that you would have to be positing when you try that set-aside. Something other than the classical God, but there it is. And I don't think he even waved a finger toward establishing that the classical argument constitutes what would properly be coined an "impossibility argument". He just plain misses the boat on that altogether - he's 'not even wrong'.

Crude said...

Not if the evidence is so overwhelming against Evil-God, which it is,

No, it's not. Particularly not when you both set aside all philosophical demonstrations and arguments, yet also avail yourself to an evil god theodicy. What's being forgotten is that 'evidence against evil-god/god's existence' becomes 'evidence consistent with evil-god/god's existence' once you block out the metaphysical and philosophical considerations, and also start interpreting through a theodicy lens. Even Law admits it can be done, but at that point he just starts psychoanalyzing anyone who takes the route.

Evil-God is dismissed out-of-hand, Evil-God is not even seriously considered. How much less evidence than “enough to dismiss out of hand” is “enough to reject”?

And this just isn't the case. How many people even consider the possibility of an evil god in this manner in the modern culture? And how many people consider these questions, regarding either god or evil god, in the way Law outlines here (purely empirically)?

If a thought never occurs to me, I didn't dismiss it out of hand. And that's yet another area where Law's line of argument goes astray - he keeps insisting that everyone believes an evil god is absurd based on the empirical evidence. It's just that no one is writing any philosophical or theological papers about this (or if they are, he has severe trouble coming up with any). And the fact that so many people say (given the conditions Law outlines) it's not absurd is, Law insists, just a reaction to his argument. He's thin on evidence, and he explains away all the counter evidence that comes up with psychoanalysis.

It has some parallel to the claim that everyone believes in God, but quite a number of people are lying to everyone about their beliefs.

Jinzang said...

Did Augustine come up with the idea of evil as privation, or did he get it from the neo-Platonic philosophers?

Jinzang said...

Doesn't the Gnostic concept of the Demiurge fit the definition of an evil god? And can we say that it is *empirically* refuted?

machinephilosophy said...

JA,

"If Law really is arguing in this vein, he needs to argue that arguments based upon evidential reasoning are superior to metaphysical ones or at least can invalidate a metaphysical argument in this instance. Simply asserting that they can will not do."

Apt and very well-said.

...By the way, could someone provide a list or link to a list of things that get waivers from that scientific rigor thing so we can know beforehand for things like the case for scientism, empirical proof of empirical reductionism, arguments for pseudo-problems of evil, etc.?

So the two claims would be:

"Arguments based upon evidential reasoning are superior to metaphysical ones."

"Arguments based upon evidential reasoning can invalidate a metaphysical argument in this instance."

I'm wondering if anyone who has put forth either of the above statements has also, in the same exposition, specified which type of statements those two statements -themselves- are considered to be.

And what about that nagging distinction between evidential reasoning and metaphysical arguments? Oh no, I believe they're different! But does my claim have evidential reasons or am I just arguing metaphysically? Where are my self-exempting universals when I need them? Maybe Evolution was lying about Natural Selection, and I'm actually headed for Entropic Doom after all! Evolution itself was just trying to survive as a -theory-! Woe is me!

Eric said...

I posted this earlier on this thread, and on Professor Law's site:

"If the classical theist claims that an evil god is impossible, the challenge still applies, for the classical theist must then *show* that such a god must be good. In other words, Professor Law's dispute is with whether, in such a case, the EGC would be *irrelevant* or whether it would be *met*. He would claim that, given the success of such an argument (for a necessarily good god), the EGC would be met, not shown to be irrelevant, whereas Professor Feser would say that in such a case, the challenge would be shown to be irrelevant. (Of course, Professor Law would dispute the claim that there is such a successful demonstration, and that the challenge has been met, but that's not what's at issue here: what's at issue is whether such a proof would meet or render irrelevant the EGC).
Does that sound about right?"

Professor Law responded on his site with, "Hi Eric, you said "Does that sound about right?" I think it's pretty close, yes!"

So it seems to me that when Professor Law says that the classical theist is not immune to the EGC, he's not saying that the classical theist can't meet the challenge, but that it's a challenge that must be met. And, it seems to me that when Professor Feser says that the EGC doesn't apply to classical theism, he's saying that there is no challenge because it's already been met.

Here's a way of looking at it: If I'm told that I must take algebra before I study calculus, and I say that I already have studied algebra, then from *my* perspective, the advice is irrelevant, while from the perspective of my advisor (who may require me to take a placement test to demonstrate my abilities) it's still a challenge that must be met before *anyone* can study calculus, whether *I've* indeed met it or not.

I wonder if this slight distinction might be at the back of all this. Professor Law is arguing that the EGC shows that theists must do some work to overcome the implications of the empirical data of vast amounts of suffering in the world vis-a-vis the existence of a good god, and the classical theist is claiming already to have done that work. From the perspective of the classical theist, the work is done, while the person running the EGC claims that if it's been done, it no more renders the challenge irrelevant than my already knowing algebra is irrelevant as far as the issue of whether knowledge of algebra is a prerequisite for studying calculus.

Crude said...

By the way, I think there's one route Law could take with his argument that would actually be pretty reasonable - but it would run heavily counter to the spirit of his original argument.

It would be to argue that, if a person believes that a good God can be rationally believed in in spite of the amount of evil in the world given theodicies (leaving aside all metaphysical demonstrations, talk of basic beliefs, etc), said person should also accept, given those same conditions, that an evil god can be rationally believed in as well.

That's qualified in all the right ways, I think. It's vastly easier to support. It's even vaguely novel, or at least provides a religious perspective that has been out of fashion for a while. It does have the small flaw of going in the dead opposite direction Law intended (instead of giving an argument against one type of god, he'd be giving an argument for another type of god), but at least the argument's in better shape.

Eric said...

Monk68, great posts!

JA said...

Alright, I think we all know what is called for at this point--the Stephen Law drinking game! Normally, I wouldn't do this--I strive to be respectful and civil--but given the way that Law is arguing, it is now totally warranted.

From now on, you must read this thread with a drink in your hand.

1) If Law again appeals to the majority, take a drink.

2) If Law appeals to authority by mentioning that his work was published, take two drinks.

3) If Law throws out another fallacy, take a drink.

4) If Law psychologizes someone, take a drink.

5) If Law pledges to ignore someone because he doesn't like their line of questioning, take two
drinks.

6) If Law insults someone besides Feser, take a drink.

7) If Law insults Feser, take two drinks.

8) If Law references Feser's work out of context, take three drinks.

9) If Law equivocates between the problem of evil and the evil god argument, take a drink.

10) If Law asserts that the amount of evil in the world invalidates the metaphysical arguments undergirding classical theism, but fails to show that evidentiary arguments invalidate metaphysical arguments in this instance, take two drinks.

11) If Law simply asserts that "evil" is a metaphysical category that applies to classical theism sans properly addressing the doctrines of privation, the transcendentals, divine simplicity, etc., take two drinks.

12) If Law repeats, " Evil is not a privation, as any fule kno," with rough approximation, finish your drink.

Feel free to add your own!

Metaphysical Muddle said...

Does JA stand for Jack Ass?

Just sayin'

BenYachov said...

JA,

The only problem I have with your game is if I played it seriously I should become a bigger drunk then Christopher Hitchens.

There is only one thing in the universe that hates Hitchens more than the most fanatical Theist & that is his liver.

I yam that I yam said...

Stay classy guys.

JA said...

13) If someone criticizes this game while ignoring Law's repeated ad hominems, fallacies, equivocation, ignoring the arguments he doesn't like, unsubstantiated assertions, and psychologizing, take a drink.

Just sayin'

And what's not classy about this game?

BenYachov said...

I don't deny it's classy I just live in fear of the damage it will do my liver if I actually did it.

I'm a family man with three autistic kids. I can't afford to drink myself to death because Law will do all those things at least twice per post.

Alcohol poisoning! I'm just saying.

Have drink on me bro.

Cheers JA.

Landon Hedrick said...

Ed,

Sorry to backtrack in the discussion a bit, but I haven't kept up with the numerous comments that were left here today. I'll just respond to the comments that were directed at me.

You wrote: "Nobody thinks that what the average guy says about quantum mechanics or Darwinism -- and he probably has all sorts of misconceptions -- is at the end of the day too relevant to evaluating those theories."

You're right. And yet, I don't think this undermines my point. Let's suppose that there are two debates here: (i) Is classical theism true? and (ii) Is the personalist conception of theism true? (I suppose you're willing to grant that there really are these two debates.) Even if it were the case that the majority of scholars (e.g. philosophers and theologians) were, by and large, focused on (i), that would not change the fact that somebody engaging in debate (ii) is implicitly understanding "theism" to mean "the personalist conception of theism." And as it happens, most ordinary people seemed to be focused on (ii) rather than (i). Of course, it's not just laypeople who are focused on (ii) either. It's also the focus of a wide swath of contemporary philosophy of religion.

Now, if you want to claim that (ii) doesn't matter, and (i) does, because that's what the most sophisticated philosophers have focused on throughout history, that's your prerogative. But your saying that (ii) doesn't matter, even given your reasons, doesn't change the fact that (ii) is a legitimate debate which has been underway for some time now.

As for whether Catholics will, by and large, submit their beliefs to the church's authority, I wouldn't know. I do know that with a few exceptions, the Catholics in my acquaintance seem to focus on (ii) regardless of what the church's official doctrine happens to be. And insofar as that's the issue they're interested in, it's a legitimate debate worth having.

As for the question of contraception, I don't see why this matters. If atheists want to attack the church because of the church's stance on that, even though most Catholics disagree with the orthodox position, I don't see why this should be a problem. They ought to keep in mind, of course, that it's not the view of many Catholics that they're attacking. This is consistent with what I've been saying, as far as I can tell.

Landon Hedrick said...

Crude,

A bit of clarification: I'm not claiming that Dawkins would be happy to concede that his arguments don't touch the God of classical theism. I can't speak for Dawkins, obviously. My impression is generally the same as yours; I don't think Dawkins is even aware of many of these issues.

You ask: "just what are you saying Ed and other classical theists should do? Not point out that classical theism emerges unscathed from Law's argument, regardless of how it works against theistic personalists?"

I'm saying that Ed shouldn't try to make as much of it as he's been doing, acting as if it would be a major concession on Law's part to concede that the argument doesn't apply to classical theism. I once gave a paper presenting a reason to think that atheism is true (implicitly understanding the debate to be about the personalist conception of God), and my respondent attempted to undermine my case a bit by appealing to Paul Tillich's radical theology, noting that God is not "a being," but "the ground of all Being." My response was simply to point out that Tillich wasn't engaged in the debate I'm engaged in, so, far from undermining my case, the appeal to Tillich was just changing the subject (though, admittedly, it is at least a closely related subject). I think the same is probably true when Aquinas is put in place of Tillich.

For example, suppose that the kalam cosmological argument doesn't establish the kind of being that classical theism affirms, but instead establishes a personalist conception of God. It would be misguided for somebody to respond to Craig's defense of this argument in a debate about the existence of God by pointing out that the argument doesn't establish classical theism, but merely establishes a more "historically idiosyncratic version of theism" that Craig happens to believe. Craig's response would be the same as mine: Yes, but that's what the debate is about.

Edward Feser said...

Landon,

You seem to be committed to the conjunction of the following three propositions:

1. Law’s “evil god challenge” was originally presented as a completely general challenge to theism.

2. It does not in fact apply to thinkers like Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Maimonides, Avicenna, or Averroes; to Aristotelians, Neo-Platonists, and Scholastics more generally; or to official Roman Catholic theology, Eastern Orthodox theology, or to at least many prominent Protestant theologians. (For that is what is entailed by admitting that it does not apply to classical theism.)

3. But acknowledging (2) would not be a major concession on Law’s part.

If you really don’t find this conjunction rather obviously implausible, I’m not sure what I (or anyone else) could say to convince you.

Also, I never said that debating theistic personalism wasn't important. I said that Law should acknowledge that his "challenge" applies only to it and not to classical theism. (It's true that I also said I couldn't care less about theistic personalism, but that was just a throwaway remark about my own personal opinions, not something that was playing a role in my criticism of Law.)

Re: contraception, I think you missed my point. I was not complaining about atheists attacking Catholic teaching on this issue. The point was rather that if they think that on that subject it is the official teaching of the Church and not the opinion of the average Catholic that matters to evaluating Catholicism as a religion, then to be consistent they should also acknowledge that it is the official teaching of the Church vis-a-vis God's nature (which is classical theism) that matters to evaluating Catholicism as a religion, and not the opinion of the average Catholic (even if the average Catholic is committed to theistic personalism). Now presumably Law's argument is meant to apply to (among other religions) Catholicism, and not just to the views of this or that average Catholic. In that case, though, it is a pretty major concession if he were to admit that his "challenge" isn't actually relevant to official Catholic teaching.

Crude said...

Landon,

I'm saying that Ed shouldn't try to make as much of it as he's been doing, acting as if it would be a major concession on Law's part to concede that the argument doesn't apply to classical theism.

I think it would be a major concession. Maybe this is a case of 'major' being in the eye of the beholder - you say it wouldn't be major because - if I understand you right - in principle, Law could have his sights set on exclusively theistic personalist conceptions of God. (If you'd say that, though, I'd argue that doesn't seem clear given Law's own responses. He's not saying, 'Go away, Ed, I know this doesn't apply to you.')

But even if that were the case, then it would make a lot of sense for Ed to point out Law's concession, because one thing defenders of classical theism tend to tout is the superiority of their view to theistic personalism.

I just don't see a good reason for what amounts to 'Ed, you shouldn't be talking about this so much' both with the way things are playing out (Law not making this concession) or the way they could play out in your scenario.

Frankly, at this point, if Law ends up saying 'Okay, fine, Ed's right. Classical theism can evade my argument entirely if their arguments hold up.' it would be a disaster, at least in the small-potatoes world of philosophy blogs.

I think the best way to lodge whatever complaint you have here isn't "Ed should stop making a big deal out of this" but "Law really should have thought this through better".

I once gave a paper presenting a reason to think that atheism is true

See, I don't think the respondent was 'changing the subject'. Here's one way to think about this.

Could Ed Feser offer the Evil God Challenge? Remember, according to Ed, classical theism is immune to the EGC - and to the degree it has any force at all, it has force against theistic personalism. But Ed himself rejects theistic personalism. So it seems to me (let's assume the EGC is actually a good argument here - I doubt this) Ed could mount the EGC as an argument for classical theism.

Given that, the EGC isn't really an argument 'for atheism'. No more than an apologist is giving 'arguments for atheism' by arguing against, say... mormonism.

I think this is coming down not to the arguments themselves, but the intention of the person offering the argument. And I'm not sure it's reasonable to suggest classical theists remain quiet whenever Law is speaking, on the grounds that 'he's maybe, hopefully, possibly aiming for other people here, so let him do that without criticism'.

RD Miksa said...

Good Day to All,

Although I have refrained from responding so far in reference to the “Evil-God” Challenge, I must say, after having seen the argument/challenge parsed back and forth for so long, that I contend that it really is a weak argument/challenge that can be undermined in too many ways to make it effective. Indeed, consider these objections:

1) The primary objection comes directly from the classic-theist’s position, and that is—and as has already been mentioned by numerous people—that, given classical theism, an Evil-God is simply an impossibility, like a square circle. So, if it can be positively and conclusively demonstrated that the God of classical theism exists, then the Evil-God Argument/Challenge has, depending on your point of view, actually been met or has been shown not to have been a valid argument to begin with.

2) The second objection is that for both the classical-theist and the personalist-theist, the Evil God Argument/Challenge could simply be overcome by a strong moral argument that would support both God’s existence and his goodness. Such a moral argument would meet the challenge and negate it.

3) The third objection arises from the fact that, as mentioned by others, the historical evidence for the acceptance of Evil Gods, by multiple cults in multiple cultures, clearly demonstrates that many individuals have considered Evil Gods quite plausible. But this fact undermines the Evil God Argument/Challenge, for the argument relies heavily on the claim that an Evil God is obviously absurd, which, historically speaking, is not the case. Thus, a major premise of the Evil God Argument/Challenge can be undermined via historical examination.

4) The fourth objection arises from the fact that sociological evidence could be used to demonstrate that the majority of individuals actually do not employ empirical evidence of the good in the world as their primary reason for rejecting the existence of an Evil God. But if this could be shown, then this potential fact would serve to undermine the Evil God Argument/Challenge, for this argument relies heavily on the claim that the majority of people employ the empirical evidence of good as the reason to disbelieve in an Evil God. Thus, a major premise of the Evil God Argument/Challenge can be undermined via this potential sociological evidence.

Continued...

RD Miksa said...

Continued...

5) The fifth objection, which is linked to the fourth, arises from the fact that anecdotal evidence, such as the evidence provided by multiple people on this blog, clearly demonstrates that many theists do not employ the empirical evidence of the good in the world as their primary reason for rejecting the existence of an Evil God. But this fact serves to undermine the Evil God Argument/Challenge, for this argument/challenge relies heavily on the claim that the majority of people employ the empirical evidence of good as the reason to disbelieve in an Evil God. Thus, a major premise of the Evil God Argument/Challenge can be undermined via this anecdotal evidence.

6) The sixth objection is that since sceptical theism is by no means an irrational or unreasonable position to hold (especially given Points 3 to 5), and since holding to sceptical theism serves to negate the force of the Evil God Argument/Challenge, then this is a more than legitimate way to overcome the Evil God Argument/Challenge. The theist simply has to hold to sceptical theism, and the Evil God Argument/Challenge is rendered ineffective.

7) Finally, the seventh objection has to do with the fact that since any argument must have clearly defined terms in order for an individual to know if the argument has force or not, and since the Evil God Argument/Challenge, at least at this point, has poorly defined both the term “God” and the term “evil,” then this fact gives grounds for rejection of the Evil God Argument/Challenge until these terms are properly defined.

So, all in all, I think these objections demonstrate that the Evil God Argument/Challenge is an essentially interesting, but ultimately weak argument that does not undermine either classical theism or personalist-theism in any significant way.

Take care and God Bless,

RD Miksa

SR said...

Are folks here really saying that evidence doesn't count if one thinks one has a "sound metaphysical argument"? I'm not defending Law here, as I don't think "evidence of evil" challenges, say, the A-T argument for classical theism. But in general, there are things that could. Making the analogy to mathematics doesn't work. Mathematical statements do not refer beyond themselves, but metaphysical ones do. What if, for example, out-of-body experiences become commonplace, and it just becomes common knowledge that some non-human animal souls also survive death. This would invalidate an A-T metaphysical conclusion. It wouldn't necessarily destroy the whole structure, but it would indicate that it needs patching.

Paul said...

"Are folks here really saying that evidence doesn't count if one thinks one has a "sound metaphysical argument"?"

Morning all! I don't think so - I'm certainly not.

For me it's simply the fact that Dr Law has stated that we can rule out an evil, and therefore also a good, God on empirical grounds.

It's a claim that I want him to defend, since I'm not sure I agree with him.

Hope I've not misunderstood you! The whole question about evidence in this discussion, I think, started with this claim.

SR said...

Paul,

Right, in this case, I am not defending, and indeed, reject the claim that the existence of evil invalidates classical theism. What raised my concern were comments that there was some sort of distinction to be made between "evidentiary arguments" and "metaphysical arguments". When it seems to me that metaphysical theories are just as subject to evidential critique -- of whatever kind -- as any other theory.

Crude said...

When it seems to me that metaphysical theories are just as subject to evidential critique -- of whatever kind -- as any other theory.

I'm not sure that's true. Maybe if the metaphysical claim results in empirical claims, but then again is it still a metaphysical claim at that point? And, not to be the guy who's trying too hard to speak like a philosopher, but is that a metaphysical claim or an empirical claim?

I think it helps to realize that when we examine evidence, we're doing so while presupposing some metaphysics to begin with.

Stephen Law said...

There's a chorus of requests for my "definition" of "good" and "evil", as if many of you suppose that as soon as I explain what I mean by "good" and "evil", you'll be off the hook re the evidential problem of evil and the evil god challenge.

My definitions of good and evil? I am (pretty obviously) working with our familiar, pre-theoretical concepts of good and evil, on which, for example, pain and suffering are evils, and agony inflicted for no good justifying reason is a gratuitous evil.

You may say "Ah, but we mean something different by "good" and "evil"".

You might mean something different. But that won't help you avoid the evidential problem of evil, or the evil god challenge, if, for example, on your concept of good and evil, pain and suffering are still evils, and if agony inflicted for no good justifying reason still counts as a gratuitous evil.

Paul said...

Dr Law has kindly given us his definitions of good and evil. What do we make of them?

"My definitions of good and evil? I am working with our familiar, pretheoretical concepts of good and evil, on which, for example, pain and suffering are evils, and agony inflicted for no good justifying reason is a gratuitous evil.

You may say "Ah, but we mean something different by "good" and "evil". You might. But that won't help you avoid the evidential problem of evil, or the evil god challenge, if, for example, on your concept of good and evil, pain and suffering are still evils, and if agony inflicted for no good justifying reason still counts as a gratuitous evil."

Anonymous said...

"My definitions of good and evil? I am (pretty obviously) working with our familiar, pre-theoretical concepts of good and evil, on which, for example, pain and suffering are evils, and agony inflicted for no good justifying reason is a gratuitous evil."

Where's the definition of good?

Crude said...

There's a chorus of requests for my "definition" of "good" and "evil", as if many of you suppose that as soon as I explain what I mean by "good" and "evil", you'll be off the hook re the evidential problem of evil and the evil god challenge.

4) If Law psychologizes someone, take a drink.

Gentlemen, empty your shotglasses.

Edward Feser said...

Eric,

Here’s the problem with that. Suppose someone puts forward a “material res cogitans challenge” which purports to show that for any evidence that could be marshaled for the existence of a Cartesian res cogitans as an immaterial substance we could show that there is equally good evidence for the existence of a Cartesian res cogitans that is material. You point out that (a) this “challenge” makes no sense given what a res cogitans is supposed to be in Cartesian metaphysics -- it is >essentially, and not contingently, immaterial -- and (b) that Cartesian arguments for the existence of an immaterial res cogitans (e.g. conceivability arguments) are not matters of “weighing evidence” and the like in the first place, but are attempts at metaphysical demonstration. And even if someone objects to such arguments that they are fallacious, that conceivability is not a good guide to possibility, etc., it is those objections that will be doing the work against the arguments, and not the so-called “material res cogitans challenge,” which drops out as irrelevant.

And suppose he responds to you: “You just don’t get it. Go read my paper again. You haven’t shown that my challenge doesn’t apply to the Cartesian notion of res cogitans; you’ve merely offered an attempt to meet the challenge! And it’s an awful attempt anyway, because everyone knows that the notion of an immaterial res cogitans is fishy. You think the challenge doesn’t apply because you think you’ve got some knockdown argument for Cartesian dualism. But the philosophical community doesn’t agree. Plus you don’t realize that the challenge is just an extension of the standard materialist arguments against dualism, and that the challenge is really just the challenge to the dualist to defend himself against materialist criticisms. Etc. etc.”

Now, surely the most hard-nosed materialist would agree that such a “challenge” (let alone the responses to criticisms of the challenge) would add nothing to the case against Cartesian dualism and is completely uninteresting. Perhaps it would have some relevance to a view which made some novel use of the expression “res cogitans,” but not against any view that uses that term in its historical sense.

Now Law’s “challenge,” considered as a challenge to classical theism, is no better. The only difference between the cases is that there is no widespread novel use of the term “res cogitans” that parallels the novel conception of God that theistic personalists have put in place of the historically dominant classical theist conception.

Crude said...

By the way, I think RD Miksa's 7 points were pretty good summaries. I agree that classical theism dispenses with the EGC easily. I'd just add that theistic personalists have little to fear from it either.

Stephen Law said...

Edward you are just refusing to acknowledge the point I made about your suggestion that showing an evil god is impossible means the evil god challenge "does not apply" to your god. I actually dealt with that move in the paper (it's clear you skimmed that bit because when you tried to explain my objection to impossibility arguments you got it wrong - giving another minor argument I had included instead). To help you out, I pointed out that Wes Morriston dealt with that move in his paper. And I have explained the problem with it several times here. And yet you just continue to ignore the point. You've never addressed it, or even attempted to refute it. In fact, there's still no clue yet that you've even understood it (Though I notice Eric does now. In fact, he explained it back to me on my blog, more or less correctly. Perhaps you should ask him to explain it to you?)

Frankly, I now just don't believe you still don't understand the point. I think the intellectually honest thing for you to do would be to just admit that you were wrong when you said the challenge "does not apply" to your god, and to try to actually meet it (and perhaps you can).

Stephen Law said...

Hi Mateus

You said: "Now, this seems to be Feser’s response. He is saying that this “rule out of a (good) God” is not a worry to the classical theist, (like Aquinas, say), because he has two cards in the hand: (1) he has an demonstration of the existence of a “Pure Act” (or similar, if he is a Neo-Platonist, etc) and (2) given the traditional metaphysics that underlies this demonstration, the hypothesis of the “Pure Act” as an Evil Being is just not possible.

Now, if you want to put the classical theist in a worry, you have to refute either (1) or (2). Considerations about empirical amounts of good or evil are irrelevant given (1) (i.e., you cannot defeat a demonstration with and empirical consideration, and they claim to have a demonstration) and (2) (given the demonstration plus the background metaphysics, he is necessarily good)."

My reply. This is confused. My evil God challenge is not presented as a proof, but as a challenge to theists. I am asking them to explain why belief in a good god is more reasonable than belief in an evil god, particularly given that the evil god seems to be ruled out on straightforward empirical grounds (i.e. so why isn't the good god, notwithstanding all the theodicies, args from miracles and religious experience, etc. all of which can be flipped).

Fesser dismisses the challenge on the grounds that it does not apply to his god. He does not even have to try to meet it, he thinks. In fact, he does, for the reasons I have explained (impossibility arguments are easily sidestepped by the evil god challenge, and in any case do nothing to neutralize the evidential problem of evil).

However, Feser might try to meet the evil god challenge by coming up with a proof of the existence of God. However. It will have to be some proof. Remember what it has to rationally offset - what otherwise looks like overwhelming empirical evidence that there's no such god. Now even a proof - a real, cogent proof - cannot do that if there's some doubt about it's cogency. I might have a mathematical proof, but be rightly doubtful about it's cogency, given it's highly technical and complex. Your thought that "demonstrations trump inductive arguments" just overlooks this key fact.

So Feser's "demonstration", in order to effectively neutralize and overturn the case against belief in his God by the empirical evidence, will have to be some proof. It will have to be, not just cogent, but a proof of such power and clarity that there just can't be any significant reasonable doubt that it does indeed establish the existence of Feser's god - a god whose goodness is such that he won't e.g. torture children for no justifying good reason.

This is why the fact that the vast majority of philosophers find the Feser-type medieval proof unconvincing is relevant. It shows there's indeed very significant, widespread doubt, in fact.

So, Feser has entirely failed to meet the challenge, and, indeed, it looks like his god belief is, in fact, pretty straightforwardly empirically falsified.

Stephen Law said...

you say "Suppose someone puts forward a “material res cogitans challenge” which purports to show that for any evidence that could be marshaled for the existence of a Cartesian res cogitans as an immaterial substance we could show that there is equally good evidence for the existence of a Cartesian res cogitans that is material. You point out that (a) this “challenge” makes no sense given what a res cogitans is supposed to be in Cartesian metaphysics -- it is >essentially, and not contingently, immaterial -- and (b) that Cartesian arguments for the existence of an immaterial res cogitans (e.g. conceivability arguments) are not matters of “weighing evidence” and the like in the first place, but are attempts at metaphysical demonstration."

This is obviously a false analogy. The evil God challenge does not say there’s evidence FOR an evil God (a God you might already have shown is conceptually incoherent). It says that, setting aside whether an evil god can be ruled out conceptually (perhaps it can), there is in any case, evidence sufficient to rule it out empirically (at least up until some very compelling counter-argument is produced). Which there is, of course. Hence we can ask: so why is there not similarly sufficient evidence to rule out a good god? Particularly as the usual appeals to afterlives, means-ends justifications, etc. theodicies work just as well in defence of belief in an evil god, etc.

This is, of course, the evidential problem of evil. But with an interesting twist. E.g. the evil god dimension brings out just how hopeless and ludicrous many standard theodicies are, as they stand. Including yours, it turns out.

Crude said...

Edward you are just refusing to acknowledge the point I made about your suggestion that showing an evil god is impossible means the evil god challenge "does not apply" to your god. I actually dealt with that move in the paper (it's clear you skimmed that bit because when you tried to explain my objection to impossibility arguments you got it wrong - giving another minor argument I had included instead). To help you out, I pointed out that Wes Morriston dealt with that move in his paper.

Perhaps Law is referring to this paper, linked on another thread: The Evidential Argument from Goodness

If so, here's the first quote even vaguely - and I mean vaguely - relevant to the classical theist case: "So what is it that makes the demonist's claim so absurd? There are two considerations that I want to mention only to set to one side without a lengthy discussion. In the first place, many theists would claim that demonism is logically incoherent. They would argue that omnipotence and omniscience are logically inconsistent with malevolence. An all-powerful, all-knowing creator would necessarily be perfectly good, loving, and so on. I think is a mistake, but I won't insist on that point here. Even if demonism is incoherent in just the way that some theists believe, I think it is still useful to ask whether there is any other way to show that demonism is false. Specifically, I want to ask whether there is some range of facts about our world, relative to which demonism is sufficiently unlikely to warrant the judgment that the Demon does not exist."

This comes right after Morriston's introduction, so it's important to realize what he's doing. Notice that, in reply to the claim that (on a vaguely referenced argument about omnipotence + omniscience) an evil god is incoherent, Morriston's response is to basically say: well, I disagree, but even if it's true I want to see if there are other ways to dispense with an evil god, so let's set that aside for this paper.

That's not going to help out Law, for obvious reasons.

Otherwise, Morriston makes three references to classical theism:

1. "Throughout, my demonist will be helping himself to the "insights" of theists who defend classical theism against a parallel problem—the so-called evidential problem of evil—by claiming that we just don't know enough to make the argument go through."

2. "The amount and variety of goodness in the world—the sunsets and symphonies and babies' smiles—provides no more warrant for rejecting demonism than the amount and variety of misery provides for rejecting classical theism."

3. (In footnote 12) "(It is also worth noting that these philosophers also tend not to put much stock in the classical arguments for the existence of God.)"

I think it's clear that Morriston means something different by 'classical theist' than Feser. None of these quotes attempt to address the classical theist's arguments, or even evaluate them in light of the "demonist" arguments. (Again, Morriston explicitly sets them aside for the paper in order to see what arguments are available *without* the 'evil god is incoherent' argument.)

I hope Law meant to point at another paper, because if this paper by Morriston is the one meant to answer Ed's replies it's not going to be much Law help. Morriston explicitly says right at the beginning of his paper (to a weaker, quickly referenced argument for God's existence) that, right or wrong, he's putting those arguments aside to see if there are other ways to respond to the demonist. The rest of his paper is devoted to theists making an "evidential argument from goodness", and skeptical theism.

Law, did you even read this paper?

Crude said...

Let me add one more from Morriston. Footnote 20, with emphasis added:

"Some skeptical theists claim that there are one or more sound arguments for the existence of God. But amongst these only Plantinga's version of the ontological argument has a conclusion which entails the existence of a God who is omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good (see Alvin Plantinga, The Nature of Necessity [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974], chapter 10). And the key premise of this argument (that a Greatest Possible Being is possible in the "broadly logical" sense) is not obviously true. At most Plantinga's argument establishes that such a being is either possible or impossible (see John Mackie, The Miracle of Theism [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982], 55-63)."

I'm going to go out on a limb here and suppose Ed will disagree that the only argument which establishes an "omnipotent, omniscient and wholly good God" is Plantinga's ontological argument.

Crude said...

Just a few more notes tonight.

Law says: The evil God challenge does not say there’s evidence FOR an evil God (a God you might already have shown is conceptually incoherent).

Compare this to Law's statement on his debate with William Lane Craig, in response to Craig talking about (non-moral) evidence for the existence of God, with my bold and italic emphasis added: "Even if correct, this is as much evidence for an evil god as for a good god. So why think belief in a good god is more reasonable than belief in an evil god. That’s the evil god challenge."

So, Law's going to have to decide: does the evil god challenge acknowledge that there's evidence for an evil god or not?

Finally, Law says to Feser: E.g. the evil god dimension brings out just how hopeless and ludicrous many standard theodicies are, as they stand. Including yours, it turns out.

Where has Feser been providing a theodicy in his discussion with Law? He's been pointing out why the EGC doesn't get off the ground against the God of classical theism, regardless of theodicy concerns. And the guy who's supposed to explain why this doesn't help in an evil god challenge - Morriston - doesn't explain why this doesn't help. In fact, he explicitly sets the only claim vaguely similar to the classical theist's aside for the purposes of seeing what happens if all you deal with are evidential questions.

Stephen Law said...

PS Edward when I said: "And yet you just continue to ignore the point. You've never addressed it, or even attempted to refute it. In fact, there's still no clue yet that you've even understood it", I missed that you had posted the comment re res cogitans analogy, which is an attempt to address the point. Though you draw a false analogy, as I pointed out. Which suggests you still don't understand it.

Aquinas3000 said...

Sounds to me as though the evil god challenge amounts to "prove (a good) God exists in order to give us a rationale why you accept that and not an evil god." So really we should be debating things like the five ways rather than this whole lengthy discussion. If they or some other demonstration are true we win. If not we fail to make a case and lose.

And the discussion must be focused on the proofs themselves not how many doubt them etc.

Eric said...

Here's a very interesting post from Professor Mike Almedia on Professor Law's blog (in case anyone missed it):

"If p is a conceptual truth, then p can be neither confirmed nor disconfirmed by any additional evidence, at least on typical Bayesian views of confirmation. Conceptual truths such as, say, p are certain, so P(p) = 1. But then, for any old evidence you like E, P(p|E) = 1. That is, p remains certain no matter what else you learn. What Craig is doing is arguing for the claim that p is a conceptual truth, and I think it's ok to use empirical evidence to do that. So, I might ask a good mathematician whether she thinks T is a theorem. If she tells me it is, then I have empirical evidence E' that T is a theorem. But I can't put P(T|E') = 1, since I don't know T's a conceptual truth. So, here's the difference between you and Feser, I think. He says that God is not evil G is a conceptual truth and we know it. That's expectable: it's a traditional Anselmian and Thomistic thing to say. If so, then P(G) = 1 and the evidence from evil adduced against G (assuming all the other stuff about ominiscience, ominipotence, etc.) won't confirm or disconfirm G. You concede that it is a conceptual truth that God is not evil, but you don't concede that we know it's a conceptual truth or that we know G is certain. If we don't know that G is a conceptual truth, then we don't know that P(G)= 1. Then (again, granting everything else necessary to make this go) the evil observed counts as evidence against the claim that it is a conceptual truth. It also, obviously, counts against the existence of such a good God. It is a long story but I think it is difficult (despite being traditional) to defend the claim that it's apriori true that God is essentially perfectly good. I do think it's a necessary truth, though."

Eric said...

*Almeida

Verbose Stoic said...

Stephen Law,

"My definitions of good and evil? I am (pretty obviously) working with our familiar, pre-theoretical concepts of good and evil, on which, for example, pain and suffering are evils, and agony inflicted for no good justifying reason is a gratuitous evil."

Well, see, the problem here is two-fold:

1) Pain and suffering are not, in fact, actually "evils" in the sense you need them to be to make your case. That's patently false. For example, think of someone who has, say, just finished running a marathon, the first one they've ever done. They are likely to be in a significant amount of pain, but they do not consider it to be "evil", but instead GRATIFYING; they feel, in some sense, GOOD for having the "evil" of that pain as it represents the effort and what they worked through to get their achievement, and if they hadn't had or don't have that pain they wouldn't have the achievement. And we can also, then, turn to things like surgeries that cause pain but are not evil, even if they are correcting things that would not cause more pain later but are just correcting things that would just have you painless drop dead at some point. So pain and suffering themselves are not evil.

2) The last part opens yourself up to a refutation of the "no good God" empirical results by adding "no good justification". What if there is one? I think that makes it no longer evil to most people, as evidenced by my first comment above, not just gratuitous evil. Since you cannot rule out that there really is a good reason for this you don't have an empirical argument against a good God that could stance against the metaphysical or conceptual ones, and if I'm understanding you correctly that's what your argument is aimed at: demonstrating that even if one can make a conceptual argument for God the instant that God is good the empirical evidence suggests that such a God can't actually exist.

As another note, you absolutely have to define what you mean by good for get your "evil God" counter off the ground, because unless I know what it means to be good I have no reason to think that the evidence doesn't work better against an evil God allowing good than it would the other way around, and your contention seems based on us accepting that you simply cannot evaluate them separately on that score. I beg to differ, at least potentially, so you need to tell me what good means so I can evaluate your claim appropriately. Otherwise, you are simply relying assuming that good and evil are precisely opposing ends of a dichotomy, but that's not a safe assumption, even if the common sense view says it is.

James said...

On a side-note, in the NT ὁ πονηρός, ‘the evil one’ (Epistula Joannis i 5:18) is ὁ θεὸς τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου, ‘the god of this age’ (Epistula Pauli ad Corinthios ii 4:4). Apparently, for the authors/compilers of the NT, the notion of an evil god isn’t so challenging as it is for Law anyway.

David T said...

Given that Prof. Law has accepted Eric's summary of his position, I still don't know why Law thinks the EGC is significant. Whether the EGC has been "met" by the classical theist or is "irrelevant" to him seems to be a distinction with little significance. Eric used the analogy that when one learns calculus, one has implicitly learned algebra as well; and when one learns classical theism, one learns early on that the nature of the classically theistic God is necessarily good.

Now Prof. Law responds that it is therefore incumbent on the classical theist to prove that God is good. Fair enough, and this is what classical theists have been doing since Plato. The argument turns on the validity of those classical arguments, which is just Prof. Feser's point. That is the perennial debate of philosophical theology. It seems like the EGC is just a long way to get back around to the debate we've already been having. Why not just engage that debate directly (e.g. engage the classical theists arguments for the goodness of God) rather than go through a lengthy and ultimately unnecessary preamble about the EGC?

RD Miksa said...

Dear Prof. Law:


You said:

“My definitions of good and evil? I am (pretty obviously) working with our familiar, pre-theoretical concepts of good and evil, on which, for example, pain and suffering are evils, and agony inflicted for no good justifying reason is a gratuitous evil.”

The reason that we need your definition of good and evil is for the obvious reason that if you are claiming that the overwhelming amount of empirically-visible good in the world renders an Evil-God absurd, then I clearly need a precise definition of good (and evil) in order to be able to properly assess the empirical landscape for your precisely-defined good (or evil). And until and unless you provide me with such a definition, then I have no proper or objective way to judge the amount of empirical good (or evil) in the world. And if I cannot objectively or properly assess the amount of empirical good (or evil)—based on the fact that you have not properly defined it—then your Evil-God Argument/Challenge is rendered objectively ineffective, and thus not applicable to me, based on the subjective nature of its key terms, until and unless you provide that objective definition to me.

To illustrate this point, consider the following: if you and I were arguing about whether or not a certain city was too dangerous to live-in based on the amount of empirically determined violent crime that occurs in its streets, then it would be pretty damn important to properly and objectively define what is meant by violent crime. For the answer to such an argument might be utter different if you are or are not counting threats as violent crime. Or again, your answer might be utterly different if you are or are not counting minor assaults as violent crime. So clearly, properly, precisely, and objectively defined terms are essentially to any such empirically based argument.

So all this brings us to your actual definition.


You said:

“You may say "Ah, but we mean something different by "good" and "evil"". You might mean something different.”

Exactly!


You said:

“But that won't help you avoid the evidential problem of evil, or the evil god challenge, if, for example, on your concept of good and evil, pain and suffering are still evils, and if agony inflicted for no good justifying reason still counts as a gratuitous evil.”

The key word in that whole statement was “if”! And well, since my concept of good and evil does not see pain and suffering as evil, but actually sees disobedience to the moral law as evil and obedience to the moral law as good, regardless of whether that obedience or disobedience results in pain and suffering (after all, in most cases, striving to obey the moral law results in more pain and suffering then disobedience to it), then all this means that your Evil-God Argument/Challenge does not apply to me.

So this is yet another objection to my previous list of objections to the Evil-God Argument/Challenge:

8) The eighth objection to the Evil-God Argument/Challenge is that if your definition of good and/or evil differs from the way Prof. Law has defined good and/or evil in his Evil-God Argument/Challenge, then his challenge is potentially rendered ineffective, even before it begins, against your position—as it is in my case.

More to follow shortly.

Take care and God Bless,

RD Miksa

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

As I proposed in a previous thread here a couple days ago: If the EGA is a simple modus tollens that shows the absurdity of affirming the existence of a good God, let's run it with the same formal structure to show the absurdity of affirming the existence of a simple God.

I. The world shows evil and good, so the evidence makes faith in either direction––in a good or an evil god––equally absurd (and there are people who explicitly affirm the existence of a truly evil God (aka Satanists)).

II. The world also shows unity and plurality, so the evidence for faith in either direction––theism or polytheism––is equally absurd.

Law's EGA is, alas, just a stab at a moralistic Kantian antinomy, and I wonder why Law doesn't run the same kind of argument against God's simplicity.

Oh, wait:

The whole point of classical theism is that arriving at more than one, simple Almighty God would be simply incoherent.

And now it's time for me to empty that shot glass.

BenYachov said...

>the evil god dimension brings out just how hopeless and ludicrous many standard theodicies are, as they stand. Including yours, it turns out.

At this point Prof Law has invalidated his argument even more so. The point of Classic Theism is to reject Theodicy(at least in the modern sense or in the sense it's used to defend the so called perfect moral agency of God).
Not defend or use it. At this point his kneejerk and fundamentalistic tendency to equivocate between Theistic Personalism & Classic Theism is getting old.

Might I direct him to read Against Theodicy: A Response to Peter Forrest
N. N. Trakakis
Published online: 26 February 2010
# Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

SOPHIA (2010) 49:129–140


Trakakis is a self-described tentative theist and a defender of Rowe evidential argument from Evil.

Abstract In responding to Peter Forrest’s defence of ‘tough-minded theodicy’, I
point to some problematic features of theodicies of this sort, in particular their
commitment to an anthropomorphic conception of God which tends to assimilate the
Creator to the creaturely and so diminishes the otherness and mystery of God. This
remains the case, I argue, even granted Forrest’s view that God may have a very
different kind of morality from the one we mortals are subject to.

BenYachov said...

Some choice quotes from Trakakis.

"The problem, more specifically, is that theodicies such as
those one finds in Hick and Swinburne, and in most discussions in contemporary
analytic philosophy, presuppose a thoroughly anthropomorphic conception of God."

"God, on the perfect-being model,
looks very much like a human being, albeit a quite extraordinary one, one inflated
into infinite proportions: a ‘super-duper superman’ (in Andrew Gleeson’s words2), or ‘the biggest thing around’ (as David Burrell puts it3)."

"to treat God as
an individual entity or thing, as a being existing amongst other beings, is to reduce
God to creaturely proportions, to place God in the same ontological order as ordinary
beings and objects."


"God in the analytic tradition is understood as an individual entity or substance of
some sort, usually a person or person-like being who exists alongside other personal
beings (such as humans and angels) and non-personal things (whether they be things
in the physical world, or the physical world itself)."

"if God is absolutely simple then God is not
distinct from his essential attributes, in which case God is not so much morally good
as moral goodness itself. This in turn entails a divine command theory of morality, or
something quite like it, for if God just is goodness or the standard of goodness, then
whatever counts as good must have its source or origin in God. But if God is the
source of moral norms in this sense, then what kind of moral community would he
share with us? Although it is perfectly legitimate to think of a human being as
subject to moral criticism, it makes little sense to say that God qua moral goodness
itself can be held up for judgment according to some independent moral standard.
This, by the way, also has the effect of dissolving the problem of evil,


QUOTE"Either say that God shares a moral community with us—in
which case God will have to be judged according to our moral standards and
requirements; or else say that God shares no moral community with us (or with
anyone), that God’s morality is not our morality (assuming it is even coherent to
think of God as having a morality)—in which case the very idea of passing moral
judgement on God is rendered meaningless."

"Brian Davies, in particular, has highlighted in many of his writings the importance
of preserving the creator/creature distinction. He notes, for example, that it would be
wrong to assert that God is an individual—in the familiar sense of ‘individual’
where to call something an individual is to think of it as a member of a class of
which there could be more than one member, as something with a nature
shared by others but different from that of things sharing natures of another
kind, things with different ways of working, things with different characteristic
activities and effects."

Paul said...

Thanks BenY - all great, thought provoking quotes.

Something that struck me is that while the problem of evil might be able to be addressed, it doesn't necessarily make it any 'nicer' or tidier. Apparently pointless suffering and evil is mysterious to both the theist and atheist - in that we cannot perceive all ends, at least temporally.

In that sense, the problem of evil is still a problem. The fact that Jesus underwent suffering does not make evil and suffering go away - it does not 'overcome' suffering - but it does put it in a certain perspective with relation to God.

RD Miksa said...

Dear Prof. Law:


You said:

“However, Feser might try to meet the evil god challenge by coming up with a proof of the existence of God. However. It will have to be some proof. Remember what it has to rationally offset - what otherwise looks like overwhelming empirical evidence that there's no such god.”

And yet, due to the fact that 1) I disagree with your definition of good and evil, and thus I do not find the empirical evidence against such a god overwhelming, and 2) based on the fact that even if I did agree with your definition of good and evil, my assessment would still not find this empirical evidence ‘overwhelming’, and since your argument depends on this idea that the empirical evidence is overwhelming, then, based on these previous points, the force of your Evil-God Argument/Challenge is negated.

Continued....

RD Miksa said...

Continued....


Prof. Law said:

“Now even a proof - a real, cogent proof - cannot do that if there's some doubt about it's cogency. I might have a mathematical proof, but be rightly doubtful about it's cogency, given it's highly technical and complex. Your thought that "demonstrations trump inductive arguments" just overlooks this key fact.”

But our thoughts do not overlook the fact that “demonstrations trump inductive argument.” Instead, that this precisely what they contend, and rightfully so, if the demonstration is sound. And more to the point, this fact has made me realize that a number of further objections can arise against the Evil-God Argument/Challenge.

9) The ninth objection arises from the fact that the Evil-God Argument/Challenge can be negated via an Argument from Analogy. For example, consider this analogy. For the vast majority of people, the only reason that they believe that the Earth rotates around the Sun is based on their belief that the mathematical / scientific demonstrations that support this belief are correct and accurate. But at the same time, these same people have overwhelming empirical evidence, based on their senses, that the Earth is actually stationary and that the Sun rotates around the Earth. So, if we followed Prof. Law’s methodology in his Evil-God Argument/Challenge—that clear demonstrations can be defeated by empirical inductive arguments—then we would still have good reasons in today’s age to believe that the Earth actually was stationary and that the Sun rotated around it. But since no one would accept such an argument, then it is questionable why the Evil-God Argument/Challenge should be accepted.

10) The tenth objection arises from the fact that Prof. Law’s methodology can be used to create various absurd positions. For example, consider this. I have good empirical reasons to contend that everyone around me are actually unconscious zombies/robots/automatons that only act like human beings. Furthermore, due to the fact that at best, my belief that other people are conscious can only be determined via an Argument from Analogy or as a Basic Belief, then this means that the overwhelming empirical evidence that I have for human beings being unconscious zombies/robots/automatons such trump the other considerations. And as such, I should believe that other human beings are unconscious zombies/robots/automatons. But as this position is absurd, why is the Evil-God Argument/Challenge not potentially absurd as well.

11) The eleventh objections arises from potential atheistic hypocrisy. Consider this. If a mathematical demonstration could be used to demonstrate the existence of the multi-verse, and thus negate the Argument from Fine-Tuning, then you can bet that very few atheists would be telling us that the overwhelming empirical evidence that we have for the existence of only one universe would trump the mathematical demonstration of the multi-verse. Instead, they would be acting exactly as we, the classical theists, are acting now. Namely, they would be saying that a clear and conclusive demonstration necessarily trumps any empirical evidence that can be brought against it. This fact should give us pause when atheists wish to do the reverse in the case of god.

Continued....

RD Miksa said...

Continued...

Prof. Law said:

“So Feser's "demonstration", in order to effectively neutralize and overturn the case against belief in his God by the empirical evidence, will have to be some proof. It will have to be, not just cogent, but a proof of such power and clarity that there just can't be any significant reasonable doubt that it does indeed establish the existence of Feser's god - a god whose goodness is such that he won't e.g. torture children for no justifying good reason.”

Actually, no, it does not. The demonstration would just have to be more plausible than the Evil-God Argument/Challenge. And I contend that a Moral Argument for the existence of God and his goodness could easily meet this plausibility criterion.

In addition, I should mention that the idea of ‘significant reasonable doubt’ is an incoherent term (although I am sure that this was just an oversight on Prof. Law’s part). Doubt is either reasonable or unreasonable. And it is precisely the significance of the doubt that determines whether it is reasonable or not. It is a minor point, but ultimately an important one.

Continued....

RD Miksa said...

Continued....

Finally, I should mention that there exists yet another objection that can be brought against the Evil-God Argument/Challenge.

12) The twelfth objection comes from the fact that if we are to believe that the overwhelming empirical evidence can be used to show that no good god exists, then this “overwhelming” empirical evidence must first be properly counter-balanced by other empirical evidence such as the testimony of people that they have experienced the existence of a good god, and our own potential experience of the existence of a good god, and the documentary evidence from some things scripture that god is good. Now obviously, some people will weigh this evidence differently. But that is precisely the point, since for some people, this particular empirical evidence will counter-balance the empirical evidence that Prof. Law presents. And if it does for these people, then the Evil-God Argument/Challenge is neutered.

And this above fact brings up yet another objection:

13) The thirteenth objection is that if the totality of the empirical evidence being considered can ultimately only be weighed subjectively (due to the fact that such things as personal experience of god’s goodness must be taken into account), then this means that there is no objective way to make a clear determination as to whether the Evil-God Argument/Challenge is effective or not. But if this is the case, then all the theist has to say to overcome this argument is that in his overall subjective assessment of all the empirical evidence at hand, he does not find the empirical evidence overwhelming against a good god, and thus the Evil-God Argument/Challenge falls flat. And due to the subjective nature of the assessment of the evidence, there exists no objective way that the atheist could object to the theist in this case.


So, I have articulated thirteen objections to the Evil-God Argument/Challenge. And as only a few of them have been touched on, then until and unless they are all by answered or overcome, then I myself rest comfortably with the knowledge that the Evil-God Argument/Challenge has little force against my theistic beliefs.

Take care and God Bless,

RD Miksa

RD Miksa said...

Dear Prof. Law:


You said:

“This is why the fact that the vast majority of philosophers find the Feser-type medieval proof unconvincing is relevant. It shows there's indeed very significant, widespread doubt, in fact.”

Please, let us be honest. This fact has more to do with an utter lack of familiarity with the arguments and metaphysics themselves then they do with the arguments themselves. In fact, in order to illustrate this situation, I would say that in this case, the situation is like the one between Creationists and Evolutionists, with modern philosophers being the Creationists would think that they have utterly defeated the ignorant arguments of the proponents of evolution, when the fact of the matter is that the Creationists have not even properly considered the arguments to begin with!

Take care and God Bless,

RD Miksa

BenYachov said...

BenYachov said...

>the evil god dimension brings out just how hopeless and ludicrous many standard theodicies are, as they stand. Including yours, it turns out.

At this point Prof Law has invalidated his argument even more so. The point of Classic Theism is to reject Theodicy(at least in the modern sense or in the sense it's used to defend the so called perfect moral agency of God).
Not defend or use it. At this point his kneejerk and fundamentalistic tendency to equivocate between Theistic Personalism & Classic Theism is getting old.

Might I direct him to read Against Theodicy: A Response to Peter Forrest
N. N. Trakakis
Published online: 26 February 2010
# Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010


SOPHIA (2010) 49:129–140

Trakakis is a self-described tentative theist and a defender of Rowe's evidential argument from Evil.

Abstract In responding to Peter Forrest’s defence of ‘tough-minded theodicy’, I
point to some problematic features of theodicies of this sort, in particular their
commitment to an anthropomorphic conception of God which tends to assimilate the
Creator to the creaturely and so diminishes the otherness and mystery of God. This
remains the case, I argue, even granted Forrest’s view that God may have a very
different kind of morality from the one we mortals are subject to.

BenYachov said...

Some choice quotes from Trakakis.

"The problem, more specifically, is that theodicies such as
those one finds in Hick and Swinburne, and in most discussions in contemporary
analytic philosophy, presuppose a thoroughly anthropomorphic conception of God."


"God, on the perfect-being model,
looks very much like a human being, albeit a quite extraordinary one, one inflated
into infinite proportions: a ‘super-duper superman’ (in Andrew Gleeson’s words2), or ‘the biggest thing around’ (as David Burrell puts it3)."

"to treat God as
an individual entity or thing, as a being existing amongst other beings, is to reduce
God to creaturely proportions, to place God in the same ontological order as ordinary
beings and objects."


"God in the analytic tradition is understood as an individual entity or substance of
some sort, usually a person or person-like being who exists alongside other personal
beings (such as humans and angels) and non-personal things (whether they be things
in the physical world, or the physical world itself)."

"if God is absolutely simple then God is not
distinct from his essential attributes, in which case God is not so much morally good
as moral goodness itself. This in turn entails a divine command theory of morality, or
something quite like it, for if God just is goodness or the standard of goodness, then
whatever counts as good must have its source or origin in God. But if God is the
source of moral norms in this sense, then what kind of moral community would he
share with us? Although it is perfectly legitimate to think of a human being as
subject to moral criticism, it makes little sense to say that God qua moral goodness
itself can be held up for judgment according to some independent moral standard.
This, by the way, also has the effect of dissolving the problem of evil,



QUOTE"Either say that God shares a moral community with us—in
which case God will have to be judged according to our moral standards and
requirements; or else say that God shares no moral community with us (or with
anyone), that God’s morality is not our morality (assuming it is even coherent to
think of God as having a morality)—in which case the very idea of passing moral
judgement on God is rendered meaningless."

"Brian Davies, in particular, has highlighted in many of his writings the importance
of preserving the creator/creature distinction. He notes, for example, that it would be
wrong to assert that God is an individual—in the familiar sense of ‘individual’
where to call something an individual is to think of it as a member of a class of
which there could be more than one member, as something with a nature
shared by others but different from that of things sharing natures of another
kind, things with different ways of working, things with different characteristic
activities and effects."

BenYachov said...

DAMN IT I MEANT TO PUT THAT ON LAW'S BLOG!!!!!

Paul said...

"And due to the subjective nature of the assessment of the evidence, there exists no objective way that the atheist could object to the theist in this case."

This is exactly my difficulty - how could one possibly make such an assessment in the first place? So when Dr Law says,

"...consider whether you would rule out an evil creator (whether or not you call it a god) on empirical grounds..."

I would say, "how would one go about such a task?"

This is why I can follow Dr Law this far in his EGC but, until he can offer good grounds for making the assessment, I can go no further.

RD Miksa said...

Dear Paul:

You said:

"This is why I can follow Dr Law this far in his EGC but, until he can offer good grounds for making the assessment, I can go no further."

Exactly! And since, based on the argument's subjective nature, I doubt that Prof. Law ever can come up with an objective way to make the assessment, then I do not think the argument will ever get off the ground to be point of actually being effective.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Paul and RD Miksa:

Yes.

Law is presupposing what he denies. His argument is a failure.

First of all, as many have noted here, an "evil god" qua *almighty creator of all* is incoherent, literally as sensible as an "inert motor". As such, Law's argument is a failure.

Evil is a privation and *cannot be positively created*. Hence, no God, indeed, no being, could literally produce evil, only the conditions for its occurrence. (Doing evil is doing anything that detracts from the beautiful order of being and truth, it's not extruding some metaphysical gunk called 'evil'.) Prof. Law makes light of the privation view of evil, but then immediately proceeds to reify evil (which is rather like creationists "catching" evolutionists in their ways because Darwinism uses the word "selection"). A reification and absolute imposition of something your interlocutor rejects entirely, is bad form, albeit fine rhetoric.

I will reiterate the point I made in the earlier discussion of Law's argument: the problem of evil for advancing atheism (PEA) rests on a privation theory of evil. As such, Law's dismissal of it is either lazy or brainless. The PEA, of which Law's EGA is a species, recognizes gross deficits in what *should be* the good work of an All-Good God."

More formally:

1. An all-good God acts in accord with absolute goodness.

2. Creation is the act of an all-good God.

3. Creation contains evils.

4. Therefore the act of divine creation fails to concord with absolute goodness.

5. Hence, either creation is not the work of an all-good God or no such God exists.

As you point out, the problem is that the atheist has no way of establishing just *how good* God's creation should be. In this way, it's basically a Spinozan or Plotinian plea against theism. (Indeed, it's interesting that Law does not argue a parallel Humean case: God acts according to pure simplicity, but creation displays as much evidence of plurality as it does of unity, therefore no simple God exists. Perhaps he realizes how week that argument is, but fails to extend such sobriety to his own argument.) For if any of God's acts must wholly express his omnibenevolence, then creation qua divine act must express unbounded goodness. For the atheist, creation can't be evil and be the act of an all-good God. As God's act, it should display goods we don't see in it: a privation objection.

Further, privations are not the same as negations. Law's argument rests on a perceived abundance of negations which we think ought to exist in nature, not, however, on actual privations in God's creative power. Indeed, Law, by his own admission, has no grounds for even claiming there are actual privations (i.e. a lack of what ought to compose a being in its proper perfection). So, as with all arguments from evil, it is an aesthetic argument: "Well, God may exist, and I grant there's an intriguing abundance of evidence for His existence, but I certainly wouldn't have done things this way, and surely an existent God would not perform worse than I."

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

My scholasticism got in the way: by motor I meant motus in the scholastic sense of moving object.

In any case, the point is that there simply can't be evidence that points to "an evil almighty creator God"; there can only be evidence of no God at all. Alas, though, Law's argument amounts to saying, "We can deduce from the speed of this object that it's either moving or immobile." And this, all because we think the immobile object is not moving at the speed we like!

David T said...

Here is my Swiss Cheese Challenge:

The holes in swiss cheese are just as real as the cheese itself. So there is just as much empirical evidence for a Swiss Cheese Hole Maker as there is for a Swiss Cheese Maker. But no one believes that anyone specifically makes swiss cheese holes. Neither, then, should we believe that anyone makes swiss cheese.

man with a computer said...

I like that Swiss Cheese Challenge.

BenYachov said...

Prof Law IMHO has pretty much abrogated defending his claim the Evil God Argument applies to Classic Theism.

He has no clear philosophical definition of evil or good. He let it slip he doesn't believe evil is a privation.

He's a classical sophist at this point arguing puppies are my brothers.

John said...

Actually, let's all forget for a minute the privation doctrine of evil and how it renders Stephen's evil-god challenge non-sensical, since, the biggest question of all, the one we should all be pondering on, is: why on earth is a philosopher of Law's stature unable to get it?!

Everyone has been going on and on for quite some time now about this, and yet he still doesn't get it? Why!??! That's the mystery right there!

BenYachov said...

"I don't need the concept of evil to run the problem of evil."-Stephen Law

Speaks for itself. By definition the EGA is a meaningless piece of sophistry one could use to vex a fundamentalist with no higher than a sixth grade elementary school education.

At best in spite of itself it's a pretty good argument against a Theistic Personalist concept of God who is a moral agent.

That's what it is & that is all that it is.

monk68 said...

Stephen Law wrote:

“My definitions of good and evil? I am (pretty obviously) working with our familiar, pre-theoretical concepts of good and evil, on which, for example, pain and suffering are evils, and agony inflicted for no good justifying reason is a gratuitous evil.”

That is a start. But, of course, the point that so many of us have been making is that “pre-theoretical” concepts of good and evil, when exposed to critical inspection or dialectic, reduce to subjective-emotive assertions, devoid of any objective, agreed upon, grounding in epistemology or ontology which might make a public use of such ethical predicate terms in philosophic discourse useful. Besides, it is not at all obvious that “pre-theoretical” concepts of “evil” include pain and suffering in an unqualified sense. When Law repeatedly uses phrases like “an ‘evil’ god”, or “the evidential problem of ‘evil’”, or the “amount of ‘good’ we observe” vs. the “amount of ‘evil””, etc; WHAT IN THE WORLD (literally, ontologically) is he talking about? That is what I should like to know.

As has been explained repeatedly, the classical theist recognizes (as Law possibly does not) the utter hopelessness of employing ethical predicate terms like “good” or “evil” without some agreed upon epistemic/ontic grounding for the conceptual content of those terms; otherwise, its just ships passing in the night. For instance, is ALL pain “evil”? What does that even mean? Pain is a sensible experience of a certain quality. Is it “evil” because it is experienced? Is it “evil” because it is experienced as different from other sensations which are termed pleasurable? Does then “evil” amount to a psychological state? But then subjectivity ensues, since probably not all have the same psychological experience given the same sensate encounters? “Sore” feet set up the possibility of pleasure when one takes off his shoes and warms his feet by a fire. An initial experience of pain in touching a hot oven alerts a child to danger so as to avoid repeating the action is the future. So then, does it make sense to apply the ethical predicate term “evil” to ALL pain and suffering (suffering is usually defined as the ‘rational experience of pain’)? If the answer is not obviously yes (as I think is the case), then exactly how much pain does it take to constitute “evil” pain? What is a “justifying reason”? On what basis will we come to agree on such a phrase? What is a “’good’ justifying reason”. What is “gratuitous evil”? What objective grounds, open to public evaluation and discussion, can Law offer which enables men to differentiate between that which is gratuitous and that which is not? Hence, nearly all of the most important terms deployed in the EGC are free floating equivocations which have never been exposed to a rigorous, critical evaluation of what possible objective epistemic or ontic conceptual content such terms might have.

monk68 said...

cntd

By contrast, classical theists HAVE subjected the ethical predicate terms “good” and “evil” to a rigorous evaluation rooted in an objectively defensible epistemology and ontology. I outlined that approach above. It is an approach which recognizes that the only possible non-subjective means by which to derive conceptual content for ethical predicate terms such as “good and “evil”, is to root their meaning in an otology open to public evaluation and discourse. This ontic approach, when fully fleshed out within the framework of a well developed philosophy of nature, yields the result that “good”, if it is to be invested with a non-subjective conceptual content, must be ontically convertible with being (existence); from which it follows that the ethical predicate term “evil” must act as an analogous concept term to indicate “non-being”, which just is “no-thing”, ontically - hence, evil as privation of being.

With this objective grounding for the predicate terms “good” and “evil” in hand, it is in no way apparent how, for instance, the eons of evolutionary development through the interdependent interaction of finite beings in route to the development of more complex organisms can be said to be evidence for “evil”. What would it even mean to predicate “evil” of such a process, given “evil” as non-being? Nor, on the ontic view, is it evident how ecosystems, biospheres or food chains can be said to be evidence for some-thing called “evil”. The emotive, knee-jerk references to “nature red in tooth and claw” used to bolster the POE in one context, ironically describe the very same natural interdependencies within the animal kingdom that one can find lauded as the “beautiful interconnectedness of the natural realm” in many a Sunday afternoon National Geographic documentary. Moreover, the same set of ontic facts - a man, a woman, a knife, and a kitchen - are the physical conditions of either an enjoyable meal or a murder. If these ontic facts are employed by intentional agents to enact a murder rather than a meal, where does the “evil” lay? Not in the ontic facts themselves apparently, but in the disordered intentional arrangement or use of the ontic facts. The ontically meaningful use of the term “evil” in such a case, must be applied to a privation of order, or right use, of these otherwise good (because existing) things.
If Being is convertible with good, and if evil can only mean some privation of being according either to existence or ordination; and lastly, if God is successfully argued to be Subsistent Being Itself, lacking being in no way whatsoever; it not only follows that God is utterly Good; but that all the kinds of facts which Law continually trots out as “evidence for evil” are not easily attributed to God – so understood. In short, his evidence has already been subsumed into a considered account of what terms like “good” and “evil” can even possibly mean as applied to such evidence. Of course, Law can attack this account, but that will have nothing to do with his EGC per se (as Dr. Feser keeps repeating). That will require a deep foray into epistemology, philosophy of nature and ontology to unseat the classical theist’s developed account of the conceptual content of ethical predicate terms.

monk68 said...

cntd

Nor can Law possibly complain that the classical theist’s account of ethical predicate terms is irrelevant because it does not correspond to the man-on-the-street’s “pre-theoretical”, intuitive, notions of “good and “evil” upon which Law constructs his argument. For that is the very point of philosophy - to reach the truth via a critical evaluation and analysis of our pre-critical notion. Indeed, such a premise is implicit in Law’s EGC itself; for what he is attempting to do, other than point out to some theists, that their pre-critical assessment of the goodness of God needs be challenged by his critical reflections embodied within the EGC? If then, Law should care to engage classical theists; he needs to first do the hard work of exposing those pre-theoretical concepts of “good” and “evil” to critical reflection.

Stephen Law writes::

“You may say "Ah, but we mean something different by "good" and "evil"".”

Yes, that, quite clearly, is what we are saying; and that is precisely why his EGC does not apply, a possibility which his following comment tacitly concedes.

Stephen Law writes:

“You might mean something different. But that won't help you avoid the evidential problem of evil, or the evil god challenge, if, for example, on your concept of good and evil, pain and suffering are still evils, and if agony inflicted for no good justifying reason still counts as a gratuitous evil.”

*****Please note the crucial importance of both “IF’s” in the above paragraph. These conditionals clearly shows that Law acknowledges that there might indeed be a scenario in which his EGC does not even apply to the classical theist position (contrary to his constant refrain to the contrary). Given what I have said about the classical theist approach to ethical predicate terms, it is not hard to imagine that once we know what POST-critical, non-subjective-emotive conceptual content he attaches to terms like “evil”, “good”, “justifying”, “gratuitous”, etc; it will be clear that the classical theist does not, in fact, meet Law’s conditionals, and, therefore, entirely evades his EGC. Until Law provides us with his post-critical account of ethical predicate terms, classical theists can rightly ignore him. I think it likely that he is evading this problem because he knows it opens up a Pandora’s box of issues in epistemology, philosophy of nature, etc. from which he may or may not emerge victorious.

SR said...

Crude,

[Me:}When it seems to me that metaphysical theories are just as subject to evidential critique -- of whatever kind -- as any other theory.

[You:]I'm not sure that's true. Maybe if the metaphysical claim results in empirical claims, but then again is it still a metaphysical claim at that point? And, not to be the guy who's trying too hard to speak like a philosopher, but is that a metaphysical claim or an empirical claim?

But I'm talking about metaphysical theories as a whole. In A-T, even though the claim God=goodness is not empirical (that is, one cannot point to God and say "see, God is [or isn't] goodness"), the claim is made arguing from interpretation of evidence (the whole act/potential bit). Furthermore, the whole theory does have consequences, like "only humans have post-mortem existence" which is an empirical claim, albeit one we -- or at least most of us -- do not have the ability to test. Hence, changes in our knowledge of physics could lead us to re-evaluate the initial assumptions (for example, I would argue that physical things might better be seen as composites of form and mass/energy, rather than form and matter, and that leads to a possible change in the act/potential assignation), and changes in our conscious abilities -- like acquiring the ability to perceive post-mortem existence, or perhaps remembering past lives -- could show that some empirical consequences of the metaphysical theory are wrong. In either case, the whole theory is subject to evidential critique.

[You:]I think it helps to realize that when we examine evidence, we're doing so while presupposing some metaphysics to begin with.

Not if we are being consciously metaphysical in our examination -- that is, isn't the goal, or at least one of them, to uncover and critique our presuppositions?

Anonymous said...

monk86: "An initial experience of pain in touching a hot oven alerts a child to danger so as to avoid repeating the action is the future."

Sure, there can be countless such examples. The chest pain of coronary blood flow deficiency is a warning that a person's life is in danger, the excruciating 'worst ever' headache a warning bleed which if not missed will prevent death from sub-arachnoid hemorrhage. Diabetics who lack pain perception in their feet suffer gangrene and ultimately loss of limbs.

monk68 said...

Anon,

Right, that's my point. Law seems to think that pain and suffering are ipso facto "evil". That position is not obvious, as the classical theist argues in a critical way. Moreover, it is not even obvious that most people's "pre-theoretical" consideration of "evil" includes pain and suffering in an unqualified sense.

BenYachov said...

>As has been explained repeatedly, the classical theist recognizes (as Law possibly does not) the utter hopelessness of employing ethical predicate terms like “good” or “evil” without some agreed upon epistemic/ontic grounding for the conceptual content of those terms;

I reply: Minor quibble, I would say that should be recognized by any rational human being.

Since how can you have a rational discussion with out objective terminology?

Edward Feser said...

Stephen,

First, some advice: Count to ten before hitting “Publish.” Or get an editor. That way you won’t keep saying all these cringe-making things that are inessential to your argument and just make you look foolish – appealing to “the verdict of the philosophical community,” say, or reminding us that Religious Studies liked your article enough to publish it, or writing this gem:

Frankly, I now just don't believe you still don't understand the point. I think the intellectually honest thing for you to do… [etc.]

So, now I’m a liar because I say I don’t think the “evil god challenge” applies to classical theism. Because it just so obviously applies, and it’s just so obviously bitchin’ an argument, and (has this been mentioned yet?) got published in Religious Studies, and the “philosophical community” doesn’t buy all this Thomism stuff anyway, and it just obviously does so apply to classical theism so stop dishonestly pretending it doesn’t, etc.

But then, maybe this kind of stuff is essential to your argument, since your latest remarks certainly don’t add much of philosophical substance. Again you insist that I don’t understand your “impossibility” point, but you don’t explain how I misunderstand it except to allude to Eric’s comments. But I responded to Eric’s comments with the “material res cogitans challenge” parallel. You claim the analogy is no good. (Indeed, “obviously” no good – lots of things are “obvious” to you, it seems, that no one else finds obvious.) The reason, you say, is that “the evil God challenge does not say there’s evidence FOR an evil God.”

But the “evidence for” locution is not essential to the point I was making. (“Obviously,” I’m tempted to say, but I wouldn’t want to steal your thunder.) The point is rather that, given the background Cartesian metaphysics, the notion of a “material res cogitans” is just muddleheaded from the start; and the suggestion that pointing out that it is muddleheaded merely “meets” the challenge rather than shows that it doesn’t apply in the first place makes the “challenge” completely trivial. To use another analogy (since you still don’t get the point), if someone replies to a “round square challenge” by pointing out that what is round of necessity cannot be square so that the “challenge” cannot even get off the ground if “square” and “round” are being used in the usual way, it is no good to say “Ah! But you’ve simply tried to meet my challenge!” The “challenge” in that case is completely trivial and uninteresting.

Your remarks simply reinforce the point that your own “challenge” is completely trivial in just this way when applied to classical theism. For you say that even if an “evil God” is metaphysically impossible given classical theism, there’s still the evidential problem of evil to deal with. What you don’t see is that you’ve just confirmed what I said in an earlier comment to the effect that you’ve made your expression “evil god challenge” so elastic that in some cases it refers to your strategy of stalemating evidential arguments for a good god with the evil god hypothesis, while in other cases (i.e. when responding to the charge that the stalemate strategy doesn’t apply to classical theism) you expand the meaning so that pointing out the incoherence is “meeting” the challenge, except that the “challenge” still applies because it is in that case just a matter of reminding us that there’s the evidential problem of evil to deal with.

In short, the whole thing is just a word game to keep you from having to admit that your “evil god challenge” isn’t the novel knock-out punch you think it is, but only applies to some (e.g. theistic personalist) conceptions of God while adding nothing at all to the atheist’s case against classical theism beyond what traditional arguments from evil have already said. And if I were Stephen Law, I might add that “Frankly, I now just don't believe you still don't understand the point.”

Paul said...

I very much appreciate the discussion that has been going on around Dr Law's Evil God Challenge - although it has been incredibly frustrating too.

I originally came to your blog, Dr Feser, to find some answers to the challenge as it was laid down in Dr Law's debate with William Lane Craig. While others (elsewhere) were disparaging about Law's performance and generally disappointed with the debate, I felt there was something much more substantial to his argument - this was to do with the careful way he measured his words and his strategy on the night, which combined to convince me that it was not just cobbled-together for the benefit of Dr Craig. I even told Dr Law all this on another site.

However, rather than a clarification of the EGC from Dr Law I have been unable to illicit anything which I would consider to be a straight forward explanation of it (which is reflective of some of the things you've just said) even asking Dr Law directly and, I think, politely to run his argument with me.

I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that there have been few (if any) commentators on your two sites who have felt confident enough to support Dr Law's EGC and to help clarify it for me, which makes me think that they understand it no better than I do.

I have appreciated the efforts of Eric and others to point out misunderstandings and to get some agreement on what has actually been going on throughout the discussion.

Goodnight for the time-being, Dr Feser.

Untenured said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmyyZ7Eh3IQ

JA said...

Can someone help me figure out how much booze I need to imbibe after Law's last flurry of posts? I fear for my liver!

monk68 said...

JA,

You need to imbibe enough to break the Law.

BenYachov said...

>Can someone help me figure out how much booze I need to imbibe after Law's last flurry of posts? I fear for my liver!

I reply: Well I hate to say I told you so but.....oh who am I kidding?

I love telling people that!:D

My liver loves me...my cholesterol OTOH.....

monk68 said...

Is anyone even exploring philosophy of nature any more in the modern philosophical academy? I ask because over and over again, from epistemology (including linguistic turn debates) to ethics, or whatever; the basline divergences between the traditional and modern approaches to almost every major question seem to turn on some ground floor disagreement about the nature of nature itself. Folks are off doing philosophy in all these sub-disciplines which seem to presuppose that PON is well in hand, as if the sciences have done all the work for us. But it ain't so.

It sees to me that the most pressing philosophical need these days is to focus on explicating a coherent ontological interpretation of our experience of reality (incorporating, of course, the findings of the modern emperiological sciences as part of that experience). Its almost as if PON is blown right by, in order to get to more interesting topics. But Aristotle, Aquinas, etc. saw the unavoidable need to spend a LOT of time getting PON right (as far as possible given their scientific data), BEFORE venturing out into philosophical venues less close to home - so to speak. Anyway, I just scratch my head sometimes, because the common approach just strikes me as impatient and undisciplined. Scholastic philosophy is hard (much harder than gaining proficiency in formal logic, for instance) because one has to spend a great deal of time carefully and rigorously taking account of observed experience as a pre-requisite to further philosophical speculation.

Eric said...

(cross posted)

Professor Law wrote (in the comments section of his post, "Feser Saga Continues):

"So Feser's "demonstration", in order to effectively neutralize and overturn the case against belief in his God by the empirical evidence, will have to be some proof. It will have to be, not just cogent, but a proof of such power and clarity that there just can't be any significant reasonable doubt that it does indeed establish the existence of Feser's god - a god whose goodness is such that he won't e.g. torture children for no justifying good reason."

It seems to me that the work the EGC does, when run via the impossibility argument, is to place a stronger burden of proof on the classical theist to show that there are reasons robust enough to override the empirical data that undergirds the evidential POE. That, and it puts the classical theist in a position where he must provide such reasons before appealing to theodicies etc., since the EGC shows how these can be flipped and applied to the notion of an evil god. I think that if it minimally does this much, it qualifies as a challenge.

However, as someone who moved from agnosticism to belief in god by way of the sorts of arguments classical theists defend, I think that the classical theist can meet the challenge. As Professor Feser has explained many times, it's not the sort of thing that can be done in the comments section of a blog post, but it seems to me that it can be done, *provided* we don't unjustifiably set the epistemic bar too high -- which brings me to my next point.

Whether the classical theist can meet the EGC to Professor Law's satisfaction is another question, of course. Indeed, he seems to overstate the case to me when he says that any metaphysical demonstration of god's existence and nature must be of "such power and clarity that there just can't be any significant reasonable doubt that it does indeed establish the existence of Feser's god" and "It will have to be some proof. Remember what it has to rationally offset - what otherwise looks like overwhelming empirical evidence that there's no such god. Now even a proof - a real, cogent proof - cannot do that if there's some doubt about it's cogency." I don't think that this strong a requirement can be defended on the grounds of the EGC challenge and the evidential POE alone -- after all, the EGC concedes that there is are vast amounts of good in the world too, so the empirical data is hardly "overwhelming" -- though it does seem to me that Professor Law is correct in principle insofar as the burden on the classical theist (re the reasons he has for concluding that a god of a certain nature exists) is increased by the EGC, and that certain traditional approaches to dealing with the problems raised by the amount of suffering in the world are barred, if temporarily, by it.

So I suppose that I'm in the odd position of agreeing in part with Professor Feser, and in part with Professor Law. The discussion has gotten a bit heated, but it's been very substantive, and I'm sure that many of us have learned quite a bit from it.

David T said...

Modern philosophy had its origin in the attempt to "get past" the supposedly endless dialectical wrangling of classical philosophy, including the philosophy of nature. So they see the lack of a PON as a feature, not a bug. As is becoming clear, the lack of a PON just means you ultimately don't know what you are doing.

David T said...

Eric,

"It will have to be, not just cogent, but a proof of such power and clarity that there just can't be any significant reasonable doubt that it does indeed establish the existence of Feser's god"

What does this mean? A proof is either true or false, and that is all that matters. If it is true, then any doubt about it is by definition unreasonable, whether people think so or not. Law seems to be using the appeal to "clarity" and "power" to avoid addressing the arguments directly, as though an argument's popularity with the general population or scientists or philosophers is a measure of its truth. As Aquinas pointed out, this is the weakest form of argument. If Law doesn't think the classical arguments for God don't work, I wish he would just say so directly and give his reasons for thinking so.

Edward Feser said...

Hello Eric,

You wrote:

It seems to me that the work the EGC does, when run via the impossibility argument, is to place a stronger burden of proof on the classical theist to show that there are reasons robust enough to override the empirical data that undergirds the evidential POE.

No, the EGC as such does no such work at all. Compare:

It seems to me that the work the "material res cogitans challenge" does is to place a stronger burden of proof on the Cartesian dualist to show that there are reasons robust enough to override the empirical data that undergird the evidential arguments for materialism.

The "material res cogitans challenge" does no such thing, of course. It's sheer muddleheadedness and adds absolutely nothing to the debate between materialists and Cartesians. The same is true of the EGC when deployed against classical theism.

If Law wants to say "Fine, but you've still got the evidential problem of evil to counter, and boy oh boy that's just so gigantic that I wouldn't want to be in your shoes!," well, OK, that's at least intelligible. But what does that have to do with the concept of an "evil god"? Nothing at all. It's just the old evidential problem of evil with some extra rhetoric and under a new name. Maybe William Rowe could sue Law for copyright infringement.

Now of course, as you say, Law exaggerates the significance of the POE in any event. It's just his usual bluster -- "Oh, come on, we all know that the existence of evil is such mind-blowingly powerful evidence that even if ipsum esse subsistens came down with a host of angels and set out an airtight ontological argument while simultaneously parting the Red Sea, curing all wooden legs, and fixing the economy, it still wouldn't offset the evidence against His existence, etc. etc." But I'm letting that particular load of BS pass because it's off-topic. The topic is whether the EGC poses any challenge whatsoever to classical theism specifically, and it doesn't.

Edward Feser said...

David,

Yes, if Law really wanted to present things clearly, he could say something like this: "I think that the existence of evil is such overwhelmingly powerful evidence against God's existence that it makes it very highly probable that any purported metaphysical demonstration of the existence of the God of classical theism has a flaw somewhere." That would be a very dubious proposition, but at least it would be clear and straightforward and susceptible of fruitful discussion.

Notice, though, that such a proposition makes no reference to the notion of an "evil god." And that's why Law does not just come out and say it. He is simply hell-bent on vindicating this idea he's got his heart set on, viz. that his "evil god challenge" (patent pending) is a wonderful new magic bullet that he's discovered and that works against all forms of theism. Hence he ties himself into knots and expands the content of the "challenge" so that it becomes a catch-all term for any old evil-related objection to any old version of theism.

Eric said...

Professor Feser, I think that the point I'm struggling with is getting clearer (to me!) as the discussion goes on (thanks to the many clarifications and explanations that both you and Professor Law have provided).

You would argue (and I would agree) that if the arguments you defend are sound, and if we can support the truth of their premises (emphasizing here the distinction between a premise's being true, and being known to be true), then there cannot be an evil god given classical theism, for the very notion is incoherent. Here Professor Law wants to say (it seems to me) that if we bracket these arguments and focus on the empirical data alone, then the notion of a good god is no more plausible than the notion of an evil god. This seems reasonable to me, though the obvious question is, why should I bracket those arguments? Professor Law says (in his article "The Evil God Challenge") that the reason is *if* we concede that the notion of an evil god is judged to be "highly unreasonable" by virtue of the empirical data (observable amounts of good in the world), *then* the EGC can be run by questioning why the amounts of evil in the world don't also rule out the existence of a good god. Now this would bring us back to the arguments the classical theist defends concerning god's existence and nature. It seems to me that in such a case, the burden of proof has minimally been placed upon the classical theist (assuming he conceded that the empirical data sans the metaphysical demonstrations would render the notion of an evil god highly unlikely) to show that his arguments can reasonably support (rather than, as Professor Law wants to say, show beyond reasonable doubt) a necessarily good god. Even if this doesn't increase the onus on the classical theist, by placing the onus on him it seems to me to qualify as a challenge (though it's one I think the classical theist has the resources to meet).

As I understand it, your claim is that there is no challenge because for the classical theist, the notion of an evil god is as meaningful as the notion of a round square, and it's obviously ridiculous to ask about the direction the empirical evidence points in such a case. But as I understand it, the issue is not about the conclusions the classical theist holds concerning the nature of god, but about whether he can adduce reasons to defend those conclusions (which goes beyond providing sound arguments, which may have true conclusions we can't adequately justify). So what the atheist running the EGC via the impossibility argument is attempting to do is put the ball squarely in the classical theist's court by requiring him to defend the the reasons he has for his conclusions (and by focusing him on presenting those reasons, rather than, say, appealing to theodicies).

So I suppose the point I'm struggling with concerns whether the EGC does place the onus on the classical theist *who concedes that the empirical data renders the notiopn of an evil god unreasonale* to defend the conclusion that god is necessarily good. If it does, then it seems to me to count as a challenge, and I can't see how it doesn't minimally do that much.

As always, I appreciate any clarifications or corrections you have time (or, at this point, the patience/stomach) for.

monk68 said...

Eric, you wrote:

"Here Professor Law wants to say (it seems to me) that if we bracket these arguments and focus on the empirical data alone, then the notion of a good god is no more plausible than the notion of an evil god. This seems reasonable to me, though the obvious question is, why should I bracket those arguments? Professor Law says (in his article "The Evil God Challenge") that the reason is *if* we concede that the notion of an evil god is judged to be "highly unreasonable" by virtue of the empirical data (observable amounts of good in the world), *then* the EGC can be run by questioning why the amounts of evil in the world don't also rule out the existence of a good god."

But how can a classical theist even make sense of notions like "the evidential amounts of good and evil in the world”, without knowing what objective standard Law is using to account some observed “evidence” as either "good" or "evil". So far he has told us only that he is using the average-Joe's "pre-theoretical" notions of these terms. That will not do, because we have no idea what standard might possibly invest those terms with non-subjective communicable conceptual content (obviously to allow that ethical predicate terms, for the sake of the EGC, are non-objective would entirely undermine his appeals to “evidence”)

The classical theist argues for an ontic understanding of the conceptual content of the terms "good" and "evil" from the ground up - i.e. from his philosophy of nature based on empirical observation. I briefly sketched that account in several posts yesterday. The net result of that argument is that the only way to ground the conceptual content of the ethical predicate terms "good" and "evil" in a non-subjective way, is to link them to ontology. Hence, "good" becomes convertible with being, and its opposite, "evil", becomes a privation of being. Thus, the classical theist has an objective basis for how one may intelligibly predicate the terms 'good" or "evil" of any and all evidential datums. Law has no such basis, or at least has not yet provided one (remember he admits to embracing “pre-theoretical” notions of these terms).

Again, working from the same “ground-up” philosophy of nature, this time with a focus on contingency and causality, the classical theist argues to the necessity of ultimate reality as Actus Purus or Subsistent Being Itself.

Now when the classical theist's ontic basis for predicating the terms "good" or "evil" of evidential data (especially remembering that evil is a privation of being on this view) is combined with the classical theist’s argument for ultimate reality (i.e. God) as Subsistent Being Itself; it becomes very difficult to see how any of the evidential data which Law presents could result in the predicate "evil" being intelligibly ascribed to Subsistent being Itself.

cntd . . .

monk68 said...

cntd . . .

But the EGC, by describing amounts of evidence as either "good" or "evil", begs the question against the classical theist's account of "good" as convertible with being and "evil" as the privation of being, because it offers no alternate account of how such ethical predicates can possibly acquire a non-subjective conceptual content from which the evidence can be assessed.

Here’s my main point. The reason for brushing aside Law's argument is not just because the classical theist has an air tight argument for the existence of a completely good God, such that if it goes through, all empirical evidence to the contrary can be set aside. If that were the only protection the classical theist had against the EGC, then I can see why Law or yourself might think that some kind of pressure has been put on the classical theist to show just how terrific his cosmological argument is (even though I think such arguments live up to their billing).

However, the other protection which the classical theist has against the EGC concerns Law's equivocation regarding what non-subjective-emotive standard lies behind the conceptual content of "good" and "evil" terms when he brings them to bear on evidential datums. When he asks us to "bracket" cosmological arguments to consider the "evidential problem of 'evil'" in terms of "amounts of 'evil" and "amount of ‘good’"; the classical theist is happy to oblige using the carefully argued ontic concepts of "good" and "evil" developed from within the classical theist's philosophy of nature. When THOSE concepts of “good” and “evil” are brought to bear on all the evidential sorts of data that Law commonly trots out, it STILL remains unintelligible to predicate "evil" of Subsistent Being Itself". Why, because "evil" is carefully argued to be a privation of being by the classical theist. And that argument is not motivated by a desire to preserve theism. That argument follows from a carefully developed philosophy of nature, BEFORE the cosmological arguments are ever run.

To be effective against classical theism, Law would not only have to show a flaw in the cosmological arguments for ultimate reality as Subsistent Being Itself. He would ALSO need to provide a coherent non-subjective alternate account of the conceptual content of the predicate terms "good" and "evil" in order for his appeals to evidential datums to have any force, or dialectic value in the first place.

Eric said...

Hi Monk68

While you and I share the same philosophy of nature, and hence the same conception of evil, I'm not sure I agree that Professor Law must first clarify his use of the terms 'good' and 'evil.' His response here seems pretty solid to me:

"that won't help you avoid the evidential problem of evil, or the evil god challenge, if, for example, on your concept of good and evil, pain and suffering are still evils, and if agony inflicted for no good justifying reason still counts as a gratuitous evil."

I don't think it's uncontroversial to say that pain and suffering in the world are evils, whatever your conception of evil, and that they provide at least prima facie evidence against the existence of a good god. Now you and I would agree that after these terms are cashed out on classical theistic grounds, the situation appears quite different, but the EGC just is, as I understand it, an attempt to elicit from those of us who believe that a good god exists what reasons we have for that belief, and it's in the process of providing those reasons that the discussion turns to how these terms are to be understood, and to our defense of that understanding.

I think it's important to remember how Professor Law explains the application of the EGC via the impossibility argument:

"...even supposing an evil god is, for some reason X, an impossibility, we can still ask the hypothetical question: setting aside the fact that so-and-so establishes that an evil god is an impossibility, how reasonable would it otherwise be to suppose that such an evil being exists ?
If the answer is ‘highly unreasonable’, i.e. because of the problem of good, then
the evil-god challenge can still be run. We can still ask theists to explain why, if they would otherwise reject the evil-god hypothesis as highly unreasonable, do they not take the same view regarding the good-god hypothesis?"

That is -- and I understand this to be the key to the impossibility argument -- running the EGC via the impossibility argument *presupposes* that the theist agrees that, sans any metaphysical demonstrations, the notion of an evil god is "highly unreasonable" because of the amount of good we observe in the world (the problem of good). Now I suppose the challenge could be short-circuited right there by denying that the amount (and quality) of good in the world renders the notion of an evil god unreasonable, but that would be seem to be difficult to defend -- the amount of good in the world does seem to support the notion that the existence of an evil god is unreasonable.

(One way, I suppose, would be to deny the role intuitions play in the argument, since Professor Law seems to be relying heavily on them at this point, whereas Professor Feser has expressed some doubts about how reliable they actually are (in certain areas, e.g. morality)).

BenYachov said...

@Eric
If you are right then all that Law's "argument" amounts to is a base appeal to emotion mixed with some sophistical reasoning.

Thus it is worthless from a philosophical point of view.

I can argue from emotion there must be a just God otherwise Hitler caused innocent people to die in horrible pain yet he took the easy way out as a legend in his own mind & he never got his comeupance. I could chak that up to an intuition.

I suppose I could then throw in some rational arguments about the need for justice in society to make it look more respectable.

But it really has nothing to do with forming an objective case for morality.

Like with the EGC both are just base mixtures IMHO of sophisty and reasons.

You might explore reasons otherwise but I see no rational for it & I don't see how it can apply to any concept of God that does not understand the Divine as a moral agent in any fashion.

Anonymous said...

Ben,

I have a question. Suppose you die, and find yourself in hell. And it is a very bad hell. Each day, you suffer excruciating unrelenting physical torture and mental and emotional torment that before you had no idea was even possible. And what's worse, every following day is worse than the one before. So even though your suffering is bad today, you know tomorrow will be even worse. And all humans that ever lived are in the same state as you. And this miserable state of affairs will go on forever.

In that situation, would you still argue that God is good?

In summary, is there any imaginable state of affairs that would convince you that god is not good?

Edward Feser said...

Hi Eric,

I'm not sure I follow. For one thing (and correct me if I'm wrong), it seems to me that when you refer to the arguments of the classical theist, you might be running together (a) the classical theist's arguments for God's existence and (b) the classical theist's arguments concerning God's nature. Now if you mean that the existence of evil puts the onus on the classical theist to provide a compelling defense of (a), I'm happy to allow that for the sake of argument. But that has nothing to do with the notion of an "evil god" -- it's just the old problem of evil (in either form).

But if you mean that the existence of evil puts an onus on the classical theist to defend (b) -- i.e. that somehow the amount of evil casts doubt on the correctness of the classical theist conception of God -- then that, I maintain, is muddled. (b) involves theses about the convertibility of being and goodness, evil as a privation, etc. The amount of evil in the world is completely irrelevant to that. "There is lots of evil, therefore the God of classical theism doesn't exist" is at least intelligible. "There is lots of evil, therefore being and goodness are not convertible" or "There is lots of evil, therefore the privation view of evil is false" is not intelligible.

(Compare: It is intelligible to say "The empirical evidence shows that Riemannian rather than Euclidean geometry is the correct description of the world." But it is not intelligible to say "The empirical evidence shows that Euclidean triangles are really Riemannian triangles.")

Or have I misunderstood you?

Edward Feser said...

Another way to put it -- and to relate it to Anonymous's question -- is this: Given a classical theistic conception of God, it is intelligible to say that the existence of evil is evidence to think that a good God does not exist; but it is not intelligible to say that the existence of evil could show that God is not really good after all.

Crude said...

Eric,

Now I suppose the challenge could be short-circuited right there by denying that the amount (and quality) of good in the world renders the notion of an evil god unreasonable, but that would be seem to be difficult to defend -- the amount of good in the world does seem to support the notion that the existence of an evil god is unreasonable.

One problem I have with a response like this is that it suggests we've A) gone and tallied up all the good and all the evil in the world, B) figured out what amount of evil would be too much to justify a good god's existence, and what amount of good would be too much to justify an evil god's existence, and C) reasonably determined that an omnipotent, omniscient good/evil god would never create what we see, because D) they both are present in amounts equally past some threshold.

I think, if we're walking into this with as small an amount of metaphysics as possible, there are problems at each and every point I've outlined above. This while recognizing that there is no "view from nowhere" where we can judge the good and evil in the world - everyone walks in with their own intuitions, commitments, etc.

You say that the EGC tries to shift the burden onto the theist. Here's one problem, and where things get interesting: the moment the theist says "No, I don't think it's immediately obvious - once you bracket so much of my metaphysical arguments and commitments - that an evil god could be responsible for our world", the burden has shifted back. At that point the atheist either gives up, or at least has to actually provide an argument for why the prospect of an evil god is unreasonable. And as I and others have pointed out, that's going to be a lot harder than it looks. I've noticed that Law gave a brief summary of his account of evil, but - unless I missed it - he has yet to even begin describing what good is.

Likewise, if he's given an argument for the absurdity of an evil god, I've missed it. He's made noise along the lines of 'everyone believes an evil god is absurd given the amount of good in the world', but evidence for that is remarkably thin. Doubly so since Law's argument seems to commit him to the idea that there's certainly a considerable amount of theists who accept that there's not enough evil in the world to rule out the existence of a good God - and oddly enough, that seems to itself be evidence than an evil god wouldn't be expected to be ruled out either once we do the bracketing Law suggests. (To put it another way, the 'Good god challenge' has already been run, and a considerable number of people believe the good god passes the test. If the case for the evil god really is equivalent to the good god's, it seems what we should expect is that the evil god passes the test too. Law's argument suggests that we've run the EGC already and the evil god fails, but I think the evidence far better supports the idea that the EGC, for most people, has never been run.)

Landon Hedrick said...

Ed,

Let me put it this way. Given that Law seems to want to claim that the EGC applies to classical theism, for him to now retreat from this position would be a concession. But I don't see why it would have to be a major concession.

I take it that the debate Law is more interested in (and he can tell us himself, if he so pleases) is whether or not there is a God in the personalist sense. Insofar as classical theism is far removed from this debate, I can't for the life of me see why it should matter all that much to him that EGC doesn't apply here (if that's indeed the case). The challenge is interesting and worth careful consideration when applied in the other debate--the one you're not all that interested in.

I'll agree with you this far. If EGC really doesn't apply to classical theism, and if Law comes to realize this, he ought to say so.

But one thing I want to know is whether you think an argument against theism has to apply to both classical theism and more contemporary personalist versions of theism in order to be worthwhile. Can't we admit that the EGC, when interpreted in light of this other debate, is interesting and worthwhile? Or do you think it's no good even in that context? Nobody would think to cast scorn upon William Lane Craig for defending the kalam cosmological argument because such an argument doesn't motivate classical theism, but instead just a personalist conception of theism. Regardless of this limitation, it's an interesting and worthwhile argument.

Regarding contraception and evaluating Catholicism as a religion, I think we're in general agreement. I wasn't saying anything about evaluating Catholicism as a religion, I was just talking about a particular version of theism that is widely held and widely debated. I think somebody who argues against the likes of Craig, Plantinga, Swinburne, etc. in the one debate could probably still embrace classical theism in general and Catholicism in particular. But again, my familiarity with classical theism is in great need of improvement, so I'm open to being corrected.

Landon Hedrick said...

Crude,

As I said, I don't think there's anything wrong with pointing out that the EGC (or other issues in philosophy of religion, for that matter) doesn't apply to classical theism, if that's indeed the case. So I would not fault Ed for pointing this out. What I don't understand is why this is supposed to be a point against Law or the challenge. It strikes me as a helpful comment which clarifies the debate and maps out the territory.

One thing of interest that you say is that Ed's discussion of the EGC is justifiable on the following grounds. Since it doesn't apply to classical theism, Ed can defend the EGC as applied to theistic personalism, and this would (apparently, to some extent) motivate classical theism.

But has Ed been defending the EGC as applied in that other debate? If so, I haven't noticed.

You claim that, since Ed could take this strategy, the EGC is not really an argument for atheism. But this just ignores the point I was making earlier. I think the term 'atheism' itself can take on a certain meaning when the debate is implicitly restricted to theistic personalism. In that debate, we can say that those who believe in such a being are theists and those who don't believe in such a being are atheists. This applies regardless of whether or not, in some other sense, one of these atheists is a theist. So I think there's a perfectly legitimate way of saying that Ed is an atheist, but it would of course be highly misleading to say that he's an atheist, full stop (with no qualifications). He's of course a theist, and we should say as much when we're not implicitly restricting the debate to theistic personalism (as many of us often do). What we mean by 'atheist' and 'theist,' I claim, varies by context. I know this is controversial, and you might not be inclined to be a contextualist about 'theism' and 'atheism' in the way I'm advocating.

Edward Feser said...

Hi Landon,

But one thing I want to know is whether you think an argument against theism has to apply to both classical theism and more contemporary personalist versions of theism in order to be worthwhile. Can't we admit that the EGC, when interpreted in light of this other debate, is interesting and worthwhile?

Sure, I'm happy to say that considered as a criticism of some versions of theism, the EGC is worthy of attention. I've never denied that. I'm also happy to agree that if Law had mainly been concerned with criticizing theistic personalism all along, then conceding that the EGC doesn't apply to classical theism wouldn't be a major concession given that specific aim.

The trouble is that it is clear that that was not his only aim. He has consistently presented it as a completely general critique, and the fact that he refuses, in the face of all the evidence, to concede that the EGC is not applicable to classical theism, shows that that's what he wants it to be.

Frankly, though, I don't think Law was even aware when he first came up with the EGC that there was such a thing as a difference between classical theism and theistic personalism -- that what Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, et al. are saying is radically different from what the guys in the journals he reads are saying, or what he's heard televangelists saying on TV (or whatever). It's what I call Keith Parsons Syndrome -- the implicit assumption that where phil of religion is concerned, if it was published before 1970 and wasn't written by Hume, then either it isn't worth knowing about or it's just an archaic way of saying the same thing that contemporary writers are saying.

BenYachov said...

@Anonymous

What if I woke up in the afterlife with wheels? Then I'd be a wagon for all eternity.

OTOH spending eternity in room with a braindead f***ing philosophically illiterate Gnu forever and ever listening to him prattle on?

I'd beg the dark powers for agonizing torture like having spikes threw my stomach or being burned alive as an alternative fate to being in a room with a Gnu.

If my request is granted then I would know there is a merciful God.

*****

Wow that was pretty dark even for me?

Sorry been watching way to many Lovecraft themed Youtube videos.

Better now.

BenYachov said...

>In summary, is there any imaginable state of affairs that would convince you that god is not good?

I don't believe in Flying Spaghetti Monsters and I certainly don't believe in the existence of any type of Theistic Personalist super gay* "god".

So your question is moot.

*of course by "gay" I don't mean homosexual. I mean "gay" as in BIOWARES and LUCAS ARTS not making Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic 3 and making an expensive MMO instead "gay".

Stephen Law said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stephen Law said...

Hi Edward

You say (quoting me to start):

"Feser says:

"in some cases it refers to your strategy of stalemating evidential arguments for a good god with the evil god hypothesis,"

There is no such strategy. I am not attempting to stalemate evidential arguments for a good god. You are still misrepresent the challange.

You also say (and this is the important bit) about what I might say:

"I think that the existence of evil is such overwhelmingly powerful evidence against God's existence that it makes it very highly probable that any purported metaphysical demonstration of the existence of the God of classical theism has a flaw somewhere." That would be a very dubious proposition, but at least it would be clear and straightforward and susceptible of fruitful discussion"

Er, yes that is indeed my view, as I explained above. However, the challenge is not an argument for that view, it's simply a challenge to explain why belief in a good god is significantly more reasonable than belief in an evil god (or, if you prefer, creator). The relevance of the "evil god" dimension is, this: it reveals that many of the arguments for god are no less arguments for an evil god, and that many of the standard theistic explanations for evil work just as well (in defence of a evil god) as explanations of good. Yet an evil god remains empirically absurd. Hence such arguments can hardly raise the level of reasonableness of the good god hypothesis with respect to the evil one. So what does?

Saying, "But as I define "god" an 'evil god' is conceptually incoherent' neither neutralizes this challenge nor meets it. This is because, for example, (i) we can simply rephrase the challenge in terms of an evil creator, (ii) in any case, pointing out that a hypothesis is conceptually incoherent doesn't establish there cannot be powerful empirical evidence against it (or prima facie powerful evidence, at least). Hence, there can still be powerful evidence against the evil god hypothesis provided by the evidential problem of good.

So your criticism of the evil god challenge - that it "doesn't apply" to your god because an "evil god' is conceptually incoherent - is, simply, wrong.

You skimmed the article, failed properly to understand the points I was making, and dismissed it cavalierly (just as you did the evidential problem of evil in your book, AS MY EVIL GOD CHALLENGE VERY CLEARLY BRINGS OUT. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THE MOVES YOU MADE TO DISMISS THE PROBLEM OF EVIL CAN BE FLIPPED AND APPLIED JUST AS EFFECTIVELY IN DEFENCE OF THE EVIL GOD HYPOTHESIS.).

In short, the evil God challenge just is the evidential problem of evil, but formulated in such a way that it brings out the hopeless and inadequate nature of many standard theodicies, etc. Such as yours.

One of my main aims in constructing the challenge was to prevent the problem of evil being arrogantly and cavalierly swept aside by twerps who think that appeals to an after-life, riches in heaven, and "no pain-no gain" are more than enough to deal with it. They are not.

PS I don't really think you are a liar, Edward. I think you are so stuck in a particular way of thinking about god, and in dealing with challenges to theism by certain routes, that it makes it almost impossible for you to take on board any sort of unusual or left-field view. Anything a critic might say must be forced into the mould of something you're already familiar with, so you can just apply one of your stock Catholic moves. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to work in this case. Hence your growing frustration and anger.

Anyway, that's my take for what it's worth. I don't doubt you will continue to maintain that the evil god challenge "doesn't apply" to your sort of theism, despite the fact that it actually very nicely reveals the inadequacy of the theodicies you offered in your book.

Verbose Stoic said...

Stephen Law,

"Yet an evil god remains empirically absurd."

This is the heart of the issue here. Who thinks that the reason for abandoning the idea of an evil god is its empirical absurdity, particularly the empirical data of there being supposed goodness or evilness in the world? Feser, as you note later in the comment, rejects it conceptually; the God he believes in cannot be an evil god because conceptually such a God cannot be evil. So he'd reject an evil god but not have to care whether the empirical evidence you cite supports a good or evil god more. Alternatively, one can accept that that evidence is ambiguous in general and look at the specific evidence they have for God (their holy books, for example). In no case is this any real sort of challenge except to those who eliminate an evil god by saying that there's too much good in the world for there to be an evil god. But no one has to do that.

The "Problem of Evil", on the other hand, is used precisely as that sort of argument.

"This is because, for example, (i) we can simply rephrase the challenge in terms of an evil creator, (ii) in any case, pointing out that a hypothesis is conceptually incoherent doesn't establish there cannot be powerful empirical evidence against it (or prima facie powerful evidence, at least)."

But if you "rephrase" their concept, you are then arguing against A DIFFERENT CONCEPT, and providing empirical evidence against that. Perhaps an evil god exists, but it is not THEIR God. Their God may well exist as well; your empirical evidence would demonstrate nothing about their concept or its existence, and therefore not be addressing their comments at all. Which is, in fact, Feser's complaint: your challenge does not apply to his god.

If Feser can argue for a concept of God that has to be good, and can prove that that concept is instantiated (ie it exists in this world), then the empirical evidence is just plain wrong and needs to be reinterpreted. The push, then, is to see if he can do that, and not to try to use ambiguous empirical argument against it (since by your own admission, the empirical evidence can't settle good, evil or no god).

dguller said...

Stephen:

it reveals that many of the arguments for god are no less arguments for an evil god, and that many of the standard theistic explanations for evil work just as well (in defence of a evil god) as explanations of good.

You mention that “many” of the “arguments” and “explanations” for a good God would equally work for an evil God.

Fine.

“Many” is not “all”, though. Perhaps the “many” arguments that you are referring to are of a personalist God rather than a classical theist God. I don’t think anyone was saying that your challenge did not apply to any God, but only that it did not apply to the classical theist God.

we can simply rephrase the challenge in terms of an evil creator

It would depend upon what you mean by “evil” and “creator”. Sure, one can be an evil creator of a watch, but it wouldn’t work, according to Thomist terms, to be the evil creator of the universe, because the creator of the universe would have to be Pure Act, and I’ve already explained by Pure Act cannot be evil.

in any case, pointing out that a hypothesis is conceptually incoherent doesn't establish there cannot be powerful empirical evidence against it

So, you’ll be on the hunt in the world for square circles, then?

The real issue here is the nature of metaphysical proofs versus empirical demonstrations, and which should trump the other. Feser argues the former, and you challenge with the latter.

David T said...

The arguments defending the goodness of God can be "flipped" only if good and evil are metaphysically symmetric. But they are not. This is the point that is begin repeatedly made but ignored.

It's the same reason thermodynamic arguments for a "heat source" can't be flipped to argue for a "cold source", because cold is just the absence of heat. You don't need to find a source for nothing.

It's the reason that people once worshipped the Sun as a God, the source of Light, and did not worship a God of Darkness, because they recognized that Light is something, and Darkness is just the absence of that something.

The reason that people never considered an Evil God isn't because the Evil God Challenge didn't occur to them; it's because they understood God to be primarily the source of Everything, not primarily the source of the imperfections of Everything. Even folk wisdom understands that imperfections are metaphysically secondary to their ground. So it's either a good God or no God at all; just like we either have a Sun or nothing at all. No source of darkness is necessary.

I'm beginning to think this is just a straightforward case of sophistry: Trading on a deliberately superficial interpretation of words to construct a clever but ultimately empty argument. It certainly has that shell-game feel to it that sophistical arguments have. A straightforward definition of good and evil would expose it; perhaps that is why this has been studiously avoided.

Felix said...

This is starting to get absurd. If classical theists argues that evil is a privation (as monk68 has outlined), how can Dr Law say that classical theists are ignoring the empirical evidence of evil? Surely it is BECAUSE of such empirical evidence that the notion of evil as privation is possible in the first place! Metaphysics are there to see how we can make sense of these observable facts (evil). Hence without metaphysics, giving any evidence meaning, or even claiming that they are evidence is evidently absurd.

He can, of course, turn it around and say that good is a privation of evil. But the problem is that God is Pure Act. Hence, it is either that there is a God who is simple and Good, or that there is no God. I suggest atheist followers try again and address these points instead of outburst of non-sensical utterances.

So unless these points are addressed, I'll give David T's Swiss Cheese Challange for Dr Law and his followers to chew: "The holes in swiss cheese are just as real as the cheese itself. So there is just as much empirical evidence for a Swiss Cheese Hole Maker as there is for a Swiss Cheese Maker. But no one believes that anyone specifically makes swiss cheese holes. Neither, then, should we believe that anyone makes swiss cheese."

rad said...

Stephen,
"Hence, there can still be powerful evidence against the evil god hypothesis provided by the evidential problem of good."

If you are not willing to define the term "evil god" or "evil creator", its hard to see what the "evidential problem of good" establishes. It is no help if we substitute suffering for evil (which, I agree, is also a kind of evil). Because then it is still unclear in what sense we should take the term "evil god/creator".

"The relevance of the "evil god" dimension is, this: it reveals that many of the arguments for god are no less arguments for an evil god,"

And this is why your challenge is irrelevant to classical theism. The arguments for classical theism are arguments for an supreme being, an Actus Purus, unmoved mover, subsistent being itself etc... Given the classical metaphyics it follows from there, that this being must be supremely good.


"and that many of the standard theistic explanations for evil work just as well (in defence of a evil god) as explanations of good. Yet an evil god remains empirically absurd. Hence such arguments can hardly raise the level of reasonableness of the good god hypothesis with respect to the evil one."

Agreed. But, I dont think that the standard theodicies are attempts to establish the goodness of (a personalistic) god. It is my impression that they merely try to show that the existence of a good god is compatible with evil in the world. Now, you say that they can also be used to show that the existence of an evil (personalistic) god is compatible with good. So what? I think this part is even irrelevant to neo-theism.

"So what does?"

Classical metaphysics.

Anonymous said...

Edward Feser wrote:

"Given a classical theistic conception of God, it is intelligible to say that the existence of evil is evidence to think that a good God does not exist; but it is not intelligible to say that the existence of evil could show that God is not really good after all."

It seems to me that should end this discussion satisfactorily for everyone.

Verbose Stoic said...

Anonymous,

Not quite, because Law is clearly using his "evil God" reply to show that attempts to work around the empirical evidence showing that a good God can't exist are flawed because they could equally be used to demonstrate that a purported evil God existed. So Law is not trying to demonstrate the latter, but rather to show that attempts to solve the former problem aren't going to be successful.

DNW said...

Stephen Law says:

"One of my main aims in constructing the challenge was to prevent the problem of evil being arrogantly and cavalierly swept aside by twerps who think that appeals to an after-life, riches in heaven, and "no pain-no gain" are more than enough to deal with it. They are not."


Yeah man, those twerps. How can people be so heartless ... how can people be so cruel ...? How can they be so EVIL, and wasteful ultimately, of social resources which could better be spent on real scientific caring, as opposed to funding the generation of comforting supernatural mirages.

yeah ...


But Stephen, thanks all the same for revealing the emotional driving force behind your little project.

In my well considered opinion, that revelation is itself much more valuable and informative than your argument.

So much for philosophy though ...

Felix said...

@ Verbose:

So I guess a variation of his "evil god challange" could also run like this: Given the empirical evidence that this universe is only half fulfilling, it can be suggeested that this is a product of a “half-god”. But since no one believes that a “half-god” exists, then there should no reason why people should believe in the existence full God!

Now I don't need to tell everyone how absurd the above argument is, given that "half" is a 50% of "full". The classical theist argues that God exists because thing exists and with Him being existence itself, whether they fulfill everything to their full capacity or not. But it seems to Dr Law and his followers that this makes perfect sense! They don't seem to understand that you either get a God who is perfectly simple and Good, or there is no God. To say that God is evil makes as much sense as a "half god"

It would be better for Dr Law to rephrase his arguments as: "Given the empircal evidence of evil, there is no God". But that is of course, nothing new.

Anonymous said...

BenYachov said... '*of course by "gay" I don't mean homosexual. I mean "gay" as in BIOWARES and LUCAS ARTS not making Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic 3 and making an expensive MMO instead "gay".'

That DOES mean "homosexual". What, did you think it was the "happy, cheerful" meaning of "gay" that made it an insult? The only reason it's insulting is because homosexuality is considered perverse and deviant, so if that's what you meant then quit making excuses, and if it's not then stop saying it.

Paul said...

"Yet an evil god remains empirically absurd." - Dr Law

I don't want to get on my knees - but I may have to. Please explain how you come to this conclusion, because beyond this I cannot follow you.

Surely the evidence of good and evil in the world is simply that: evidence that there's good and evil. How can one use such 'evidence' to rule out an evil God?

Pot Meets Kettle said...

DNW,

"But Stephen, thanks all the same for revealing the emotional driving force behind your little project."

Are you serious?

I've witnessed plenty of "emotional" arguments and back handed "opinions" directed at the evil stupid athiests in this combox.

First cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.

/reality

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