Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Crickets still chirping... (Updated)

Over a year ago, in the combox of a post on another topic, a reader asked for my opinion of Stephen Law’s “evil-god challenge” to theism.  In the same combox, I dashed off some brief remarks in response.  To my surprise, Law called attention to my off-the-cuff remarks over at his own blog, and offered a testy response in my combox.  He suggested that I read his article on the subject and told his own readers: “I have rattled [Feser’s] cage with a comment… Wonder if he'll respond?”

Well, I did read his article and I did respond both to the article and to his combox remarks, non-polemically and in detail.   Over a year later, I am still waiting for Law’s reply – a reply he said he would write.  Wonder if he’ll ever get to it?

Mind you, I don’t necessarily blame him for not replying.  He said he was busy, and I believe him.  I am extremely busy myself and don’t have time to reply to more than a fraction of the people who comment on my work.  But a reader’s remarks suggest that it may be a good idea for Law to get to it already: 

I also listened to [William Lane Craig’s] first debate with Dr Stephen Law last Friday and found the debate both frustrating and confusing.  Dr Law used the "Evil God Challenge" as his central (I might even say his only) argument of the night… 

I also noticed that Stephen Law (on his website) had said that he would reply to your more considered critique when he was less busy, although he doesn't appear to have done so yet.

Considering that you had replied to him a full year ago, and pretty comprehensively it appeared to me, I was doubly surprised that he had chosen to go with the Evil God Challenge against Dr Craig.  He appears to have been telling everyone how well he did in the debate on his own blog, as well as on other blogs to those who disagree with him, which I find disturbing. 

If Law is going to keep presenting his “evil-god challenge” as if it were some knockout punch to theism generally, he really ought to reply to the points I made in my post.  For as I argued there, Law’s “challenge,” to the extent that it has any force at all, is a threat at most only to the modern, historically idiosyncratic, and anthropomorphic conception of God enshrined in what Brian Davies has labeled “theistic personalism” (and what others have called “neo-theism”).  It is irrelevant to the classical theism of Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Maimonides, Averroes, Avicenna, Aquinas, and classical (Neo-Platonic, Aristotelian, and Scholastic) theology more generally.  And thus it is irrelevant to what has historically been regarded as standard (and in some contexts, such as Catholicism, normative) Christian theology (not to mention historically standard Jewish theology, Muslim theology, or purely philosophical theology).  

No doubt Law gets away with presenting his “evil-god challenge” as if it were a threat to theism in general because most of his readers and listeners are as ignorant as he evidently is of the classical theistic tradition.  But while that may be good rhetorical strategy, it is bad philosophy.   

Since posting my more detailed reply to Law, I have written up a couple of other posts relevant to the topic of the relationship between God, goodness, and morality.  Readers interested in understanding what is wrong not only with Law’s argument but also with other common atheist arguments concerning God and morality (e.g. the so-called Euthyphro dilemma) are thus directed to the following:

“Law’s ‘evil-god challenge’”

“God, obligation, and the Euthyphro dilemma”

“Does morality depend on God?” 

Readers who want a more detailed account of the classical theistic conception of God and how it differs from theistic personalism might also look at the following: 

“William Lane Craig on divine simplicity”

“Davies on divine simplicity and freedom” 

“Classical theism”

“God, man, and classical theism” 

“The ‘one god further’ objection”

“A further thought on the ‘one god further’ objection” 

Obviously, what I have to say on the subject in my books Aquinas and The Last Superstition is relevant too.  (For example, anyone who is going to comment on the relationship between God and goodness had better know something about the Scholastic doctrine of the transcendentals, which I discuss in chapter 2 of Aquinas.)

UPDATE: See the combox below for a response by Stephen Law and my reply.

212 comments:

1 – 200 of 212   Newer›   Newest»
David J. Houston said...

Hello Dr. Feser,

I'm not generally in the habit of defending atheists but throughout the debate Law said that he was arguing Craig's God rather than theism as such. Now, he might be referring to the Christian God, in which case he's guilty as charged, but if he's referring specifically to God as Craig conceives of him then your criticism misses the mark.

In any case, I'd be very interested to see a response to your article from Law.

Thanks so much for your blog and for writing Aquinas. You've been a huge part of my move form 'theistic personalism' to classical theism.

G. Kyle Essary said...

It should be noted though that Craig does not argue for anything resembling classical theism, and thus the critique from Law can at least get off the ground versus him. One of the main points of Craig's version of the Kalam is that entails God being "a personal being." Classical theism, of course, argues that God is tri-personal, but personality is not a predication of his being. Craig also rejects simplicity and atemporality among others.

In other words, even if the argument works successfully against Craig (and it doesn't), the argument fails against the classical doctrines of God presented in the Catholic, Orthodox, Reformed and Protestant Scholastic traditions (i.e. the vast majority).

BenYachov said...

Or maybe he has figured out that he really can't respond.

He can deny the existence of the Classic Theistic God.

He can deny the philosophy that gets us to a Classic Theistic God & argue against it.

He can argue against evil being a private (better then he tried one can hope).

But he can't claim with a straight face his Evil God challenge is in any way effective accept against a Theistic Personalist or NeoTheistic so called "deity".

A Crude said on another topic (& I am going to paraphrase again on something he wrote over at dangerous minds) it's a non-starter.

Like if Law said "Hey come check out my devastating refutation of Young Earth Creationism!"

It's a non-starter if you are an Old Earth Creationist or a Theistic Evolutionist.

Mark Shea once called it the "Hay no fair your not a fundamentalist!" syndrome.

or was that Feser?

Ah who cares it's funny!

But I will say this for Law he held his own with Craig & did fairly well unlike Kruass or Hitchens.

I believe that was likely because he is a philosopher and at least tried to make a philosophical argument. Outside of the Gnu's kneejerk fiat appeal to Positivism and Scientism.

Atheist philosophers even modern non-Aristotelian ones are a better intellectual class of Atheist IMHO then the average low brow from the Cult of the Gnu.

BenYachov said...

edit:privation not private.

In my defense it wasn't my typical bad spelling but my wife's computer is a tad slow & did feel like breaking out my notebook.

Edward Feser said...

Hello guys,

Thanks for your remarks. A couple of points:

1. The question being debated was "Does God exist?" not "Does William Lane Craig's God exist?" And Law was defending atheism, generically, not the non-existence merely of "Craig's God." Law explicitly says at the beginning of his opening statement that he is presenting an evidential argument from evil against the existence of God, full stop, not merely against the existence of Craig's God.

(That Law later refers to "Craig's God" doesn't show otherwise. That's just a common facon de parler -- people often speak of "Aquinas's God," "Anselm's God," etc. when discussing Aquinas, Anselm, et al. when all they mean is "the God whose existence Aquinas is defending" or "the God whose existence Anselm is defending." Surely all Law means is "the God whose existence Craig is defending," viz. the God of theism generically.)

Nor does Law say anything to the effect that Craig is committed to a theistic personalist conception of God and that his remarks about evil are directed against that conception specifically.

2. Craig's arguments are not necessarily incompatible with classical theism. Certainly there are Thomists and other classical theists who defend the kalam cosmological argument (e.g. David Oderberg).

It's true that Craig sometimes states things in a way that classical theists would find misleading or would otherwise qualify. For example, I wouldn't describe God, without qualification, as an "unembodied mind or consciousness." At the same time, classical theism (and certainly Thomistic classical theism) doesn't say that God is impersonal. It says that God is not "a person" in the sense that He does not fall under the genus "person" (because He does not fall under any genus). (And, of course, He is also not "a person" insofar as God is tri-personal -- but Craig obviously agrees with that.) But there is still in God something analogous to what we call intellect and will in us, and in that sense He is "personal." Craig's remarks (and certainly the kalam argument) can be read in that sense.

Anonymous said...

1. What do you all make of Craig's move in the debate of saying that although the kalam cosmological argument establishes the existence of a personal creator of the universe, nevertheless it does (as Law says) leave open the question of whether that being is good or evil, and that thus we need to have recourse to the moral argument to conclude that God is good? (Presumably Craig would say that we can conclude that the creator of the universe is identical to the ground of moral values because this is a simpler explanation, though I myself feel this sort of Ockham's Razor argument inspires little confidence that we can be sure we have arrived at one, not two, gods.)

2. For clarity's sake: does classical theism ensure God's goodness by reasoning from God's being pure act, to God's therefore possessing all perfections (either actually or virtually), to the fact that perfections are marks of goodness and therefore a being possessing all perfections is as good as a being can be?

(P.S.: If (2) represents the argument, roughly speaking, I would not wait for a response from Law; the whole argument is couched in a system of thinking foreign to today's dominant modes of philosophizing, and it is difficult to make substantial criticisms of such an argument unless you're acquainted with its concepts from the inside out, as in the case of Anthony Kenny.)

Edward Feser said...

Hello Anonymous,

1. While the kalam cosmological argument is perfectly compatible with classical theism, Craig's way of defending it makes no appeal to the traditional metaphysical notions of act and potency, the distinction between essence and existence, the transcendentals, the principle of proportionate causality, etc. If it did, he could easily show that the cause of the world could not possibly fail to be supremely good (indeed, that it would just be goodness itself). Hence he has to resort instead to a (rather vaguely presented) moral argument -- an argument which (for reasons set out in my earlier post "Does morality depend on God?", linked to above) I would not use, or would seriously qualify.

2. That's part of it, but there's also the doctrine of the transcendentals and its notion of the convertibility of being and goodness, together with the notion of evil as a privation. That which is fullest in being (indeed, which is being itself) is also fullest in goodness (indeed, goodness itself); and, as being itself, it necessarily has no privations and thus cannot intelligibly be said to be in any sense evil.

Thomas said...

Hello Dr. Feser!

I´m a guy who has read mostly the work of what you call "theistic personalists" (Plantinga, Swinburne, Craig) and after reading some of your very good work, I come out as a bit confused about this "classical theism" - "theistic personalism" -dichotomy. This is perhaps due to my ignorance about these matters, but still I ask: Plantinga and Craig, among others, are defenders of Anselmian perfect being theology. They define God as "the greatest conceivable being", from which properties like omnipotence, omniscience and perfect goodness follow. Now, why is this "theistic personalism" or "neo-theism", instead of classical Anselmian theism? It´s surely not classical Thomistic theism (it denies for example the strong thomistic doctrine of divine simplicity), but why can´t it be classical theism nevertheless, just an Anselmian variation?

For example, in their new book, The Good God (OUP, 2011), David Baggett and Jerry Walls describe God as "a person", with properties like omnipotence and omniscience, and who is what Plato called The Good. They constantly write that this "Anselmian" conception of God is a form of "classical theism". So which is it? Classical Anselmian theism, or just theistic personalism?

Anonymous said...

The reason Law hasn't responded is because he is still waiting to hear back from this Fesser guy.

BenYachov said...

Is "the greatest conceivable being" the same as "That which nothing greater than can be conceived."?

Because back in college I was taught the later was part of the ontological argument by Descartes.

It seems to me the later is more compatible with Classic Theism then the former since Being Itself or Existence Itself is the greatest convincing.

BenYachov said...

additional"the greatest conceivable being" implies a being alongside other beings only more uber which is naughty Theistic Personalism instead of nice Classic Theism.

Classic Theism rules!

Theistic Personalism not so much.

machinephilosophy said...

Very good Ben


"...I will say this for Law he held his own with Craig & did fairly well unlike Kruass or Hitchens."


I'll check it out. Krauss was a sophomoric disaster.

"But he can't claim with a straight face his Evil God challenge is in any way effective accept against a Theistic Personalist or NeoTheistic so called "deity"".

Yeah, that does seem pretentious, even childish. I don't like x so I'll call it evil and even capitalize the term and get all megalo and histrionic, etc. Anything beyond that ends up functioning like one of those imaginary beings. Pesky things.

"Atheist philosophers even modern non-Aristotelian ones are a better intellectual class of Atheist IMHO then the average low brow from the Cult of the Gnu."

Sheer numbers seem to match each other in the thinker-to-poser ratio. 1 out of 99 is generous in my experience, on either side. But I agree with your previous remarks: It's a joy and a relief to discuss issues with a serious analytic atheist.

"Outside of the Gnu's kneejerk fiat appeal to Positivism and Scientism."

The epistemic Teletubbies never mention the fact that in actual scientific research environments (and I've been in many of them), the key assumptions are swept under the rug en masse, and to even mention them---much less actually question them---is a political no-no.

21st Century Scholastic said...

@Thomas: the reason why Craig's (and Plantinga's) theism differs from Anselm's is that they unconsciously adhere to the scotist doctrine of the univocity of being. That is, they attribute qualities to God assuming that they have exactly the same meaning as when they're predicated of everything else.

So, Anselm WAS a classical theist (he believed that God was simple in the "strong, thomistic" sense, as he makes clear in the Proslogion) while the modern philosophers who identify with him are NOT.

P.S. At this point, you could ask, "Wasn't Scotus himself a classical theist?" The answer is: yes, he was, but i think he didn't fully realize the implications of his views.

FM said...

Strange that the crickets are still chirping.

If Law thinks his argument is so good that he uses it as his only argument (almost) I think he would or should make a priority on replying on those attacks the blow huge holes in his argument.

In the end Law's should first prove that HIS view od good and evil are correct (and not the classical theism view), since the whole arguments rests on that.

If evil is a 'lack of somthing' rather than truly something (as classical theism states) than Law's argument is futile from the start.

djindra said...

Feser needs to submit an erratum to the Pope. Genesis 2:17 should read, "but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and the privation of good, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

tolkein said...

I left a comment on Law's blog on 24th October referring to your posting last year and pointing out that for a classical theist the idea of an evil God was incoherent. Funnily enough, he had time to reply to people who applauded him but nothing about the incoherence of evil God. There's no reason for him to respond to me - I'm just a commenter on a blog, after all - but I think he prefers to talk to the choir, so as to speak

Thomas said...

21st Century Scholastic,

thanks for an answer. I know that I should actually read classical theists like Anselm, so I apologize my ignorance.

So one cannot be "a classical theist" unless one thinks that God is absolutely simple, in the sense that there is no difference between being and attribute? What about if one submits to analogical predication but denies this strong doctrine of simplicity? Can one call herself a classical theist then?

I ask this because, on the one hand, I don´t want to be called "a theistic personalist", but on the other hand, I find the strong doctrine of divine simplicity very problematic.

djindra said...

From Law’s “evil-god challenge”:

"...if it is of the essence of the visual apparatus - eyes, optic nerves, relevant areas of the brain, and so forth - that it serves the function of enabling an organism to see, then obviously blindness is a defect and it would be silly to suggest that perhaps it is sight that is the defect insofar as it involves the absence of blindness."

First, the analogy of good sight compared to moral good is inappropriate. There are different types of 'evil.' The moral evil of a serial killer cannot be considered an absence of function. That's twisted, ad hoc, reasoning to say the least.

Second, is there a 'good' purpose of the thing that caused the blindness? Infrared radiation is thought to be a contributing cause of cataracts. Surely we ought to think of infrared radiation as good. So cataracts may be caused by an excess of another good, not the absence of evil.

Third, even if eyes perform the function of allowing us to see, it does not rule out the possibility that we are meant to see evil. That is, the function of eyes, according to the 'evil God' hypothesis, is to allow us to see suffering and therefore suffer ourselves. Then blindness is the inability to suffer as designed and therefore an absence of evil. So this 'essentialist' objection to the 'evil God' hypothesis is merely Feser's personal taste of what he wants purpose to be. It is not a valid objection to Law.

rad said...

As I see it, Craigs Kalam argument stood unchallenged in the debate, and if let pass Laws arguments then the result of the debate comes to this: A deist creator-god exists, at the least.

DNW said...

Ok I scanned his Evil God challenge.

During Law's "historical" outline of how people supposedly thought of "God" and his relation to the problem of evil, I see no mention of Manichees. Nor any mention of the evil demiurge. And no acknowledgement of the Neo-Platonic definition of evil (I double checked with the search function) which his thought experiments, and his review of the argument from simplicity, should have led him to at least grapple with, when he should have realized that what his "Evil God" would really want, was ultimately a state of privation and non-existence.

But nonetheless he thinks he is sure that evil has an objective existence, in whatever senses of "objective", or "evil" might be left to someone who imagines that it is subjective feelings of pain that define evil, rather than the states of damage or disintegration which they signal.

His problem then isn't with "evil" exactly, it's with pain.

I do not advance these points as defenses of any god's goodness, but merely in order to show that there is something seriously wrong with this guy's framing of the problem, even before he begins to acknowledge that his analysis by reversal suffers from significant asymmetries.

Once however, he launches off with a remark about the Suffering walnut brained Sentients of what must be the Jurassic age, I lose all interest in further kicking at the horsesh-t.

I think that I'll bow out of this for now, and take another look at Law's argument when I am not feeling so annoyed at his apparent historical illiteracy.


I can't believe that this guy was published by Cambridge.

Josh said...

Feser needs to submit an erratum to the Pope. Genesis 2:17 should read, "but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and the privation of good, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

Lulz; your stand-up routine is improving, mon capitane.

DNW said...

Feser wrote

"2. That's part of it, but there's also the doctrine of the transcendentals and its notion of the convertibility of being and goodness, together with the notion of evil as a privation. That which is fullest in being (indeed, which is being itself) is also fullest in goodness (indeed, goodness itself); and, as being itself, it necessarily has no privations and thus cannot intelligibly be said to be in any sense evil. "

FM wrote:

"If evil is a 'lack of somthing' rather than truly something (as classical theism states) than Law's argument is futile from the start."


Repeated twice before I even commented, I now see ...

21th Century Scholastic said...

@Thomas,

>>> What about if one submits to analogical predication but denies this strong doctrine of simplicity? Can one call herself a classical theist then?

I've never thought about this, maybe cause - as far as i know, of course - nobody does that (accepting analogy but rejecting simplicity).

>>> I find the strong doctrine of divine simplicity very problematic.

Read the post on W.L. Craig that prof. Feser linked to. It will probably solve any doubts you have about divine simplicity.

21th Century Scholastic, former theistic personalist ;)

G. Kyle Essary said...

Djindra,
Hy would the fact that Gen. 2:17 uses the term "evil" have anything to do with whether or not evil is a privation of good? Am I wrong to call the absence of leather in my sandal a "hole?"

JA said...

@Thomas and 21st Century Scholastic:

Careful how you treat Scotus. He never actually abandoned analogical approaches to God; his concept of univocity was meant to to make analogical attributions intelligible. Rather than highlight that convoluted concept, I would instead point to their nominalism: they reject Aristotelian/Neoplatonic essentialism. This means introduces all of the problems Professor Feser discusses in this comment: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/11/crickets-still-chirping.html?showComment=1320218507106#c4326903079568472982

Tony said...

Djindra, your satire at 12:27 pm is unusually good. I don't know how you manage to make that stuff up, it's just so funny.

BenYachov said...

Evil is an absence of Good just djindra is the absence of any and all competent philosophical knowledge.

Anonymous said...

..and just as BenYachov is the absence of any independent, non-sycophantic thought.

djindra said...

Tony,

"I don't know how you manage to make that stuff up, it's just so funny."

It's easy. I just follow Feser's lead.

Thomas said...

@ 21th Century Scholastic (former theistic personalist)

"I've never thought about this, maybe cause - as far as i know, of course - nobody does that (accepting analogy but rejecting simplicity)."

The Good God -book by Baggett and Walls that I mentioned does that to some degree. The authors say that they submit to "the long tradition of analogical predication", while saying that God is "perfectly good", "omnipotent", "omniscient" and the like, with no sign of the strong doctrine of simplicity. They also constantly, as I mentioned, write that their theism is Anselmian classical theism.

"Read the post on W.L. Craig that prof. Feser linked to. It will probably solve any doubts you have about divine simplicity."

I have read it and it was helpful, but one blog post hardly "solves any doubts" I might have! For example, strong divine simplicity is impossible to reconcile with the view that God is in time (which I firmly believe) and it has great difficulties with the doctrine of the Trinity.

I´m still wondering if I could call myself an Anselmian classical theist without accepting simplicity!

DNW said...

Reading a little more now, I follow Edward Feser's link to Law's earlier comment box rejoinder; wherein Law, taking issue with the "privation" view of evil says:

"Fesser’s “refutation” of my evil god argument is awful:
(i) it depends on the privation view of evil, which is wrong. (Why not flip this and say good is a privation of evil?!)"


So taking Law half seriously, how would that look, logically?

Is the privation of a privation taken to be the logical equivalent to a double negation? A, "Not not"?

If so, its difficult at first glance to see what substantive existence Law's "evil" could have on his own terms.

What does Law then actually mean by "evil"? A convenient label for whatever it is he doesn't like?

Or is it a synonym for "pain" along the lines of an unmodified Benthamite theory? Oh, "Moral evil" exists too? What's this then supposed to be, lack of identification with another? ... the state of privation wherein an insufficient number of mirror neurons in is posited in the offender?


Take the case wherein X subjectively feels insufficiently appreciated by Y, and experiences pain as a resuly of Y's (supposedly unjustified) indifference. Does that provide grounds under a utilitarian regime for assuming a genuine moral rather than physical evil exists? Perhaps X *is* just a neurotic. Perhaps civilization and its technological advancements especially antibiotics, have led to large numbers of neurasthenics, and manic depressives, and hormonally imbalanced persons suriving into adulthood. Are their reports of moral "pain", prima facie evidence of the existence of an objective moral evil? If not, it seems a pill a day would chase the evil away. And no doubt some utilitarians would be satisfied with that answer.

So along those lines let's imagine a utilitarian God, or better a utilitarian world judge. "Good" is defined as another word for that which reduces to pleasure, and for the sake of a possibly pointless polar symmetry, "pain" as another word for "bad", which is taken as the non-metaphysical and everyday word for "evil".

So anxiety is evil, and pain is evil; yet if the subject feels no anxiety or pain no matter what change of state occurs in it as an organism, then the residuum for any moral calculation or evaluation of good or evil is what then? - the instrumental value of the continued existence of (the ex hypothesi) pain free subject, for producing psychological or physical pleasure others?

These same thematic observations have been extensively broached by many commentators, many of whom have repeatedly done so here in comboxes, both well and immediately before me.

Yet this crap utilitarian presumption and framework for interpreting "evil" still seems to form the basis for so much of the criticism of the ardent "anti-theists".

DNW said...

Oh, one more comment for the moment.

I don't know what Law's CV looks like, but it has been true in the past that some of the most ardent philosophical naturalists have been astoundingly ignorant of the historical roots and coverage of the basic questions.

Feser has repeatedly made that point with specific reference to his sources of inspiration.

I would cite here as an example, a preeminent philosopher whose work I studied in school, and who always provided an enjoyable read at least: A.J. Ayer.

I was flabbergasted to read a few years back in his biography " A Part of My Life" that he hadn't even read much if anything of Plato before he launched his professional philosophical career. I cannot recall what if anything he said in reference to his familiarity with the framing of moral questions by Aristotle, but I would not be surprised if it wasn't much more.

One would think he would have at least familiarized himself with the original versions of the questions. But apparently he didn't.

It's not so surprising then that some of the less philosophically minded disciples of this school, won't even consult a dictionary, when such an act might do a great deal to clarify the concepts they imagine themselves to be talking about.

djindra said...

DNW,

"What does Law then actually mean by 'evil'? A convenient label for whatever it is he doesn't like?"

-- just as 'good' is a convenient label for others.

DNW said...

djindra said...

DNW,

"What does Law then actually mean by 'evil'? A convenient label for whatever it is he doesn't like?"

-- just as 'good' is a convenient label for others.

November 3, 2011 10:50 AM



You must have missed this passage just above your comment


"It's not so surprising then that some of the less philosophically minded disciples of this school, won't even consult a dictionary, when such an act might do a great deal to clarify the concepts they imagine themselves to be talking about."


Try Buck's, Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principle Indo-European Languages.

Tap said...

Ben Yachov, November 2, 2011 10:32 PM

Funny stuff, i think we could even use him for a nominal adjective.

When someone asks me something about a subject in which i have no competence, i'll say "my knowledge is a good djindras'"

DNW said...

I asked concerning persons who were pain free but disintegrating toward a state of nonexistence, whether their extinction per se should be interpreted as evil in a utilitarian framework identifying "good" with "pleasure", and if so, on what grounds:


"- the instrumental value of the continued existence of (the ex hypothesi) pain free subject, for producing psychological or physical pleasure others?"

Read the relevant passage as,

" ... for producing psychological or physical pleasure [in] others?"

And then just pretend any missing grammatical articles in the rest of what I have written, are there too.

JA said...

@DNW:

The problem you underscore in relation to A.J Ayer is not unique to only naturalists, but philosophers more generally. If I recall correctly, Wittgenstein had little knowledge of the Greeks as well, particularly Aristotle. I think Feser even discussed this on a previous post.

I wonder if this problem is as endemic in Continental philosophy as it is in Analytic.

21st Century Scholastic said...

@ Thomas:

>>>The authors say that they submit to "the long tradition of analogical predication", while saying that God is "perfectly good", "omnipotent", "omniscient" and the like, with no sign of the strong doctrine of simplicity. They also constantly, as I mentioned, write that their theism is Anselmian classical theism.

I saw many people claiming to believe in analogy, but actually denying it. They often believe that analogy is a mere difference in degree; it's not. God's "goodness" for example, is something like our goodness, but fundamentally different.

Moreover, sometimes we know what an analogical term really means when applied to God, sometimes not (think of holiness, for example, and the difference between an "holy man" and an "holy God". It's difficult to define what it means to say that "God is holy", many philosophical theologians are still scratching their heads over this - and yet holiness is one of the most important attributes of God, and we have no problem in using it and applying it to Him).

>>>strong divine simplicity is impossible to reconcile with the view that God is in time (which I firmly believe) and it has great difficulties with the doctrine of the Trinity.

Of course, the search for complete coherence and clarity in the doctrine of simplicity takes a long time; but it's not a good motive for "suspending judgment". There are good, positive reasons for accepting DS.

>>>I´m still wondering if I could call myself an Anselmian classical theist without accepting simplicity!

I think not, and Walls and Baggett are probably misusing the term (i'll be able to say more about this when i'll read their book. :)). The two criteria for belonging to classical theism are 1) Accepting divine conservation and 2) Accepting divine simplicity.

A "complex" God in the metaphysical sense (that is, a God whose essence and existence are separated, and whose attributes are distinct from his nature, etc.) is unable to explain the existence of change and mutation. All of the five ways lead to an absolutely simple being - Being itself. I'm wondering, have you read "Aquinas" or "The Last Superstition"? And, what do you think of the quinquae viae?

21st Century Scholastic said...

P.S. For the same reason, it's impossible to hold that God exist in time, for time is the measure of change, and that would mean that God is changing = has potentiality, so he couldn't be the first mover. Why do you firmly believe that God is in time?

(On an interesting note, Anselm himself tried to reconcile divine temporality with immutability, by taking the view that God exists "all at once". See Robert Pasnau's good paper on this, freely available online here: http://spot.colorado.edu/~pasnau/inprint/pasnau.existingallatonce.pdf )

Tony said...

Me. "I don't know how you manage to make that stuff up, it's just so funny."

djindra: It's easy. I just follow Feser's lead.

Oh, now I get it: like a parrot, or a fool in a medieval court. It's funny because it has (borrowed from Feser) the outward trappings of meaning but (from you) nothing of the inward reality of meaning. Very good.

If you work at it, you might become something as popular as the Random Kant Generator. I still can't get over how much those random paragraphs look just like Kant's own work.

Josh said...

DNW,

Is the privation of a privation taken to be the logical equivalent to a double negation? A, "Not not"?

If so, its difficult at first glance to see what substantive existence Law's "evil" could have on his own terms.


Interesting oblique discussion on this at Just Thomism:
http://thomism.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/having-and-lacking-pt-1/

Anonymous said...

Hello Dr. Feser -- I am an atheist and, after reading your blog, am convinced that I do not know as much about what you call 'Thomistic classical theism' as I would like. I'd be grateful if you could answer a question for me.

At the risk of massively stereotyping, regarding the relationship between God and morality, I have the impression that Catholics tend to be natural law theorists while Protestants tend to be divine command theorists (modified or otherwise).

2 questions:

1. Is that true?
2. If so, why?

rad said...

Anonymous November 4, 2011 1:04 AM

"1. Is that true?
2. If so, why?"

I dont know if its true, but reformed theology teaches that human nature is totally corrupted, especially human reason. The only reliable source of knowledge about God and his would be revelation, or so.

On the other hand it is a Catholic dogma (i.e. a teaching that requires the assent of faith) that human reason is not totally corrupted, but that man is mostly capable of forming right views about what is morally good by looking at nature, for example, which is an expression of Gods will.

rad said...

Correction:

"The only reliable source of knowledge about God and his will would be revelation, or so."

G. Kyle Essary said...

Rad,
I would clarify your comments on natural law within the Reformed tradition. Consider Calvin himself:

"It is a fact that the law of God which we call the moral law is nothing else than a testimony of natural law and of that conscience which God has engraved upon the minds of men. "

The Reformed scholastics had sophisticated and largely positive views concerning the natural law. Take Turretin as an example:

"Here is a natural law, not arising from a voluntary contract of law of society, but from a divine obligation being impressed by God upon the conscience of man in his very creation, on which the difference between right and wrong is founded and which contains the practical principles of immovable truth"

You see similar views concerning the natural law from Edwards and Bavinck. Even Van Til has a theology of Natural Law. Saying that there are noetic effects of sin which impugn our reason does not imply that the Law is not written on our hearts or that God has not revealed himself to all men such that they are without excuse.

Thomas said...

@ 21st Century Scholastic

"I saw many people claiming to believe in analogy, but actually denying it."

That might be so. Good point. But I can´t see any reason why a theist cannot really accept analogy while denying DS.


"There are good, positive reasons for accepting DS."

Yes, if one is a Thomist. But I´m not ready to endorse A-T metaphysics.


"I think not, and Walls and Baggett are probably misusing the term (i'll be able to say more about this when i'll read their book. :)). The two criteria for belonging to classical theism are 1) Accepting divine conservation and 2) Accepting divine simplicity."

Or Walls and Baggett just don´t think that simplicity is so crucial to classical theism. About the first criterion, I can´t see any reason why personalists can´t accept divine conservation. In fact, someone like Swinburne explicitly says that God is constantly "sustaining" the cosmos in being, and his cosmological argument makes use of this. I read the "Classical theism" post by Dr. Feser, and in it he said that personalists usually deny conservation. I disagree: Swinburne, Plantinga, Craig, all of them hold to this doctrine in my knowledge.

And yes, The Good God -book is pretty good, I´d recommend it. Walls and Baggett also have a section where they critique the Thomistic claim that one can´t say that "God is perfectly good".

"All of the five ways lead to an absolutely simple being - Being itself. I'm wondering, have you read "Aquinas" or "The Last Superstition"? And, what do you think of the quinquae viae?"

Yes I have read those books, and their were very good and helpful; it was Feser´s work that got me thinking this alleged classical theism vs. personalism -dichotomy. I find the accusations that personalists are ignorant of the history of philosophy very unfair: Swinburne and Plantinga, among others, are very good philosophers who have vast knowledge of the history of theism. They just find the doctrine of DS untenable.

The Five Ways are very interesting, especially the first two. But since I´m not a full-blown Aristotelian, I have doubts over the underlying metaphysics. So I (for now) favor Leibnizian and kalam cosmological arguments, as well as other arguments that what you call "personalists" such as Swinburne use.


"Why do you firmly believe that God is in time?"

Because God interacts with the creation which is in time. This a very strong arguments for the temporality of God. Philosophers have tried to make the notion of a timeless God interacting with persons who are in time intelligeble, but it seems that this can´t be done in a coherent way. Craig has some devastating critiques of Stump and Kretzmann´s "ET-simultaneity" -theory as well as Leftow´s model. Craig is an expert in both philosophy of time and in divine attributes, and I find his arguments in this debate very convincing.

Of course one can hold that divine timelessness and God´s interaction with the world seems to us impossible to reconcile, but that´s just because God is so mysterious that we can´t understand everything. But how does differ from eliminative materialists, who are saying that EM seems to be self refuting, but just wait for the future neuroscience!

rad said...

"Saying that there are noetic effects of sin which impugn our reason does not imply that the Law is not written on our hearts or that God has not revealed himself to all men such that they are without excuse."

No it does not. But saying that human nature (and by implication human reason) is totally corrupted makes it very hard to justify a natural ethics which can be apprehended by human reason alone. I dont know how the authors you cited square these beliefs, if they adhere to Luthers doctrine of total depravity.

This doctrine is problematic on many fronts, anyway.

rad said...

My last comment was @G. Kyle Essary.

DNW said...

JA said...

@DNW:

The problem you underscore in relation to A.J Ayer is not unique to only naturalists, but philosophers more generally. If I recall correctly, Wittgenstein had little knowledge of the Greeks as well, particularly Aristotle. I think Feser even discussed this on a previous post.

I wonder if this problem is as endemic in Continental philosophy as it is in Analytic.
November 3, 2011 4:14 PM "


I don't know, but then again I can't say that I really know any Continental philosophers after Husserl and Heidegger.

I would exclude here of course, that kind of quasi-philosophy, whether admirable as with Camus, or not, as with Sartre or Derrida.

Heidegger certainly impressed me as being well schooled in ancient philosophy, and I really enjoyed works like Was heisst Denken, and Early Greek Thinking. Although I have since read criticisms that his translations of the Pre-Socratic fragments were inaccurate to start with: Even before he began his deliberate interpretive pushing of the meaning envelope in order to try and recover the sense of a primal or "originary" notion of being, and get to the root of the Western way of thinking being.

Along with challenging his etymologies and translations, critics have even said that they can find uses of terms in Hesiod that Heidegger implies only arose later.

(I'm working from off hand here so ...)


But other than Being and Time, I've found pretty much everything that I have read of his to be interesting and provocative. I think that with Being and Time, I just could not grasp the sense of the project at the time I read it.

Heidegger's early lectures, where he developed his ideas are being released under various book titles, and I find them very interesting reading too. And indicative, from my lay perspective, of a pretty profound schooling in traditional philosophy.

And of course shorter works like the Question Concerning Technology and Time and Being (which reflects on his path to philosophy) are easy, almost popular reads.

It's also fun to note how the ideas in the former, later showed up as influences in so much of 60's and 70's highbrow thought.

DNW said...

Josh said...

" ...
Interesting oblique discussion on this at Just Thomism:
http://thomism.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/having-and-lacking-pt-1/

November 3, 2011 9:14 PM"

Thanks for the link,

djindra said...

Tony,

"I still can't get over how much those random paragraphs look just like Kant's own work."

Well, I'm not a Kantian although I do pretty much agree with "Have courage to use your own understanding!"

BenYachov said...

TruthOverfaith is the final end for all Gnus.

Anonymous said...

Dr.Feser what do you think of Craig's controversial justification of the biblical story about the Canaanites?

Do you think that God was morally justified in ordering such a genocide? Is it compatible with the natural law theory of morality?

It seems some Christian philosophers agree with Craig, see this recent article by Wes Morriston, in which he quotes philosopher Richard Swinburne supporting the same opinion:

http://spot.colorado.edu/~morristo/divinely-mandated-genocide.pdf

John said...

Hey Mr. Feser, just one question:

Why can't theists just argue that the resurrection validates Jesus's claims about the character of God? Is there something missing in this argument?

BenYachov said...

>Do you think that God was morally justified in ordering such a genocide? Is it compatible with the natural law theory of morality?

God is not a Moral Agent in the Classical Theistic sense and thus not subject to moral praise or censor.

Also does God have the absolute right of life & death over us or not?

If so then what is the difference between God authorizing the death of others via secondary authorized agents vs doing it directly?

21st Century Scholastic said...

@Thomas:

>>>I can´t see any reason why a theist cannot really accept analogy while denying DS.

Of course a theist can do this. But he can't call himself a classical theist then. To put it another way, to believe in divine simplicity is part of the essence of a classical theist. ;P

>>>I´m not ready to endorse A-T metaphysics.

Um, ok. We can talk about this, if you wish.

>>>I can´t see any reason why personalists can´t accept divine conservation. [...] Swinburne, Plantinga, Craig, all of them hold to this doctrine in my knowledge.

Yes, the do; the point is, they don't have any reason to. As i once remarked to another commenter on this very blog (i think it was Mr. Green, a great fellow) on the personalistic worldview, the world is inherently stable, and has no need of being conserved in existence.
There's simply no distinction between essence and existence, and so things have no inherent tendency to annihilation. I know Craig defends creatio continuans as well as creatio originalis, but (given his view of God and the world) there's just no need of continuous divine action on the universe.

And yes, The Good God -book is pretty good, I´d recommend it. Walls and Baggett also have a section where they critique the Thomistic claim that one can´t say that "God is perfectly good".

"All of the five ways lead to an absolutely simple being - Being itself. I'm wondering, have you read "Aquinas" or "The Last Superstition"? And, what do you think of the quinquae viae?"

>>>since I´m not a full-blown Aristotelian, I have doubts over the underlying metaphysics.

See above.

>>>Of course one can hold that divine timelessness and God´s interaction with the world seems to us impossible to reconcile, but that´s just because God is so mysterious that we can´t understand everything. But how does differ from eliminative materialists, who are saying that EM seems to be self refuting, but just wait for the future neuroscience!

Well, of course, if there were good and irrefutable reasons for believing that the entire universe (including the human mind) is made only of matter - and nothing else - i'd be on their side!

Stephen Law said...

yeh I will get to this at some point. And Randal Rauser, whom I owe a response.

Stephen Law said...

I've just revisited what you said back then, Edward. I am baffled.

Of course I am v familiar with non-personalist conception sof God, and aso with the idea that evil is a "privation".

So now, supposing evil is a "privation", which plenty of theists deny (I remember the issue coming up when I presented the evil god challenge at King's London Theology conference and one Christian Oxford Don visibly rolled his eyes in irritation), can you explain how that deals with the evidential problem of evil, please?

Is gratuitous suffering (i.e. suffering that is not the price paid for some greater good that more than justifies it) not a problem re. your God? If not, why not? Because it's a "privation" of good? How does that help?

I can think of various explanations you might offer as to why the privation view of evil might be supposed to solve the evidential problem of evil, but want to know exactly which you offer, before I respond.

P.S. Yep I was focused specifically on Craig's God in the Craig debate - not deist God, or other Christian conception of God or Thor, etc. I took the question "Does God exist?" to be about God *as Craig himself defines God*.

djindra said...

BenYachov,

God is not a Moral Agent in the Classical Theistic sense and thus not subject to moral praise or censor."

Yet that same God is subject to praise as 'good'. The ad hoc inconsistencies of Classic Thomist's is ludicrous.

Anonymous said...

Whoa, Prof. Law is here!

This is why I love this blog.

Anonymous said...

^fyi he's not a professor

Edward Feser said...

Hello Stephen,

I'm baffled at your bafflement. My arguments were directed at your "evil god challenge" specifically, not at evidential arguments from evil in general. And the point was (to summarize) this: If (a) evil is the absence of good, as the doctrine of privation holds, (b) good is convertible with being, as the doctrine of the transcendentals holds, and (c) God is pure actuality or subsistent being itself, as classical theism holds, then (d) it is metaphysically impossible for God to be evil. So, any argument for God's existence is necessarily an argument for the existence of something non-evil. So, while you might intelligibly put forward evil as evidence against the existence of God, you cannot intelligibly put it forward as evidence that God might be an "evil god" rather than a good God. Or at least, you cannot intelligibly do so if it is classical theism (the theism of most theistic philosophers, historically), and not just theistic personalism, that is in your crosshairs. An "evil God," in the classical theistic sense of "God," is like a round square.

Edward Feser said...

And note, by the way (to forestall a bad objection I'm sure some will make), that this is not an attempt to sidestep the "evil god challenge" by arbitrarily defining God as good. Rather, that God is necessarily good follows from the background classical metaphysics (i.e. metaphysics in the Platonic, Aristotelian, and Scholastic traditions) in terms of which classical theism is traditionally formulated -- a background metaphysics that is independently motivated.

Brigadier said...

"(b) good is convertible with being, as the doctrine of the transcendentals holds"

This is the point which I find strange. How about a post on it?

Untenured said...

I am afraid that Stephen Law hasn't given an adequate reply. The issue at hand is whether his "Evil God" challenge succeeds, not whether the privation theory of evil undercuts the evidential argument from evil. These are separate questions and he is running them together.

The "Evil God" challenge purports to show that, even if the arguments for Theism succeed, the Theist has no reason to think that God is good as opposed to evil. On a classical Theistic conception of God, an evil God is a metaphysical impossibility and for precisely the reasons that Ed mentions. The "Evil God" challenge therefore fails.

Now, what does any of this have to do with the evidential problem of evil? The question at hand is not whether the privation theory of evil solves the evidential problem of evil. The question at hand is whether the "Evil God" challenge establishes that we have no reason to think that God would be good rather than evil. And Ed has successfully answered this challenge.

The evidential problem of evil is a red herring in this context. Law still hasn't answered the question yet, and those crickets are still chirping.

George R. said...

Stephen Law:

"Is gratuitous suffering (i.e. suffering that is not the price paid for some greater good that more than justifies it) not a problem re. your God? If not, why not?"

No, because there is no such suffering. And if you claim there is, let’s see if you can prove it.

Tony said...

No, because there is no such suffering. And if you claim there is, let’s see if you can prove it.

George, that will take him a while. Because, of course, all of the arguments that are insufficient (in his own eyes) to substantiate conclusive theodicies FOR a good God, all those weaknesses about how much good there is, are equally weaknesses about how "much" evil there is.

But to take up a related question, is it possible to say that ANY good brought out of an evil justifies that evil? I mean that question in both possible senses: (1) if you were to prove that good of value 10000 springs out of an evil of value 1, would that "justify" God arranging the evil to happen and the good to follow? Why? What if the good were achievable (through another route) without any evil at all?

Or, (2), if good state of value 2 were to be the consequence of an evil of value 3, would that justify the overall providential order that arranged them both? If the world ends up with a good, that's better than if it fails to have the good. (Yes, the answer is that the 3 evil is a privation, and the NET sum is still negative, not positive. Does it matter which state is the final condition?)

Daniel Smith said...

Brigadier:
"(b) good is convertible with being, as the doctrine of the transcendentals holds"

This is the point which I find strange. How about a post on it?


I second that request.

My big question here is about Satan... Satan (as I understand it) is a "being" in whom there is "nothing good". If good is convertible with being, then Satan can't exist (as my simple mind understands things anyway!)

Looking forward to some clarification on this one!

George R. said...

Tony,

I’m not sure how to respond to either (1) or (2), but the point I was making is that we as finite creatures are in no position to assume that there ever has been or ever will be anything that may rightly be called “gratuitous suffering,” at least not in any ultimate, absolute sense. Only an omniscient mind judging from the perspective of eternity could make such a determination.

J5 said...

Prof Law, I think you gave Craig one of his toughest challenges and im glad you did. But, I'm not a fan of this "I argued against Craigs God, not God as Christians understand". That doesn't make much sense why you would admit that. If a theist were to say "I didnt argue for Gods existence in general, just how personally believe in God", I'd think that was a cop out. But, knowing this blog I wouldnt doubt that someone is sockpuppetting your name.

BenYachov said...

@djindra
>Yet that same God is subject to praise as 'good'.

Of course, but He is not praised for being "well behaved", "Sober", "temperate", "frugal" etc....
all of which is moral praise.

I can praise my draft of root
beer for being tasty but that is not moral praise.

>The ad hoc inconsistencies of Classic Thomist's is ludicrous.

So you really think all praise is moral praise?

How is that not ludicrous?

djindra if tomorrow I stopped believing in God one opinion of mine would never change. You are beyond ignorant and can't formulate an intelligent argument for Atheism to save your life.

Move over and let the grown ups speak, Ok?

BenYachov said...

@Prof Law

>can you explain how that deals with the evidential problem of evil, please?

>Is gratuitous suffering (i.e. suffering that is not the price paid for some greater good that more than justifies it) not a problem re. your God? If not, why not? Because it's a "privation" of good? How does that help?

I reply: First I would like to say you did do very well against Craig. Well done! I expect nothing less from a philosopher who happens to be an Atheist considering the Cult of the Gnu is, at least in my experience, over populated by fanatical anti-philosophy fundies without "god-belief".

Dawkins would have been slaughtered by Craig much the same way Dawkins would have slaughtered Creationists Kirk Cameron or Ray Confort in a debate on the truth of Evolution.

But if I might be so bold to answer your question. BTW I am not a professional philosopher just an enthusiastic amateur.

It doesn't deal with the evidential problem of Evil. It's not suppose too.

But how would I see the Evidential Argument from Evil believing as I do in a Classical Theistic God and being a strong Atheist in regards to the existence of any Theistic Personalist "deity"?

Well thanks to my readings of Feser I have been lead to the writings of Brian Davies & the late Herbert McCabe.
I have also read the paper by N. N. Trakakis (2010). Against Theodicy: A Response to Peter Forrest.

I have come to believe Theodicy is based on the idea that God is assumed to be a perfect moral agent or is supposed to be one.

Along with Davies I simply don't believe God's Goodness is a moral goodness. God can't coherently be conceived of as a being who is morally praiseworthy or morally condemnable.

Thus the argument from Evil becomes a non-starter. It makes about as much sense as using Rowe's argument to refute your hypothetical evil Theistic Personalist so called "god".

BenYachov said...

@Daniel Smith

>My big question here is about Satan... Satan (as I understand it) is a "being" in whom there is "nothing good".

Let me be blunt. That is not true. As far as Satan is a "being" He is good. Of course Satan is a moral agent who has failed to be morally good & contains no moral good.

>If good is convertible with being, then Satan can't exist (as my simple mind understands things anyway!)

Rather he can exist. A relatively perfect statue can exist and a statue with limbs pulled off it can also exist.

The damaged statue is still good as far as it exists and has being. If it where un-Made down to it's metaphysical existence and essence then it would become "pure evil".

Other can explain better than I.

TOF? Crude? Feser? others?

BenYachov said...

Prof Law wrote:
>Of course I am v familiar with non-personalist conception sof God, and aso with the idea that evil is a "privation".

To cut off another possible bad response does he equivocate between a "non-personalist conception of God" vs "impersonal god"?

Because I get that all the time from the NeoTheists. Especially over at Victor's blog.

God is not "impersonal" simply because he is not compared to a human unequivocally or wholly equivocally but analogously. God analogously has Intellect and Will and thus is Personal.

God is Substantive Being Itself not a being along side other beings only more Uber or unlimited.

The "evil god" challenge only makes sense if God is conceived in the later fashion not the former.

BenYachov said...

clarification:

God is Ipsum esse subsistens (Subsistent Act of Existing Itself).

Tillich called God the Ground of All Being. Which I think is very similar only it relies on modern philosophical concepts not classical.

Speaking of which Wes Morrison who is as far as I can tell is a Tillichian wrote a response to Law's Evil God Challenge which is presented by liberal evangelical Randel Rausar.

enjoy.

http://randalrauser.com/2011/10/morriston-on-the-evil-god-hypothesis/

Anonymous said...

J5 said:
"But, knowing this blog I wouldnt doubt that someone is sockpuppetting your name."

Do you have empirical evidence for that, which others can verify independently? If not, what you're saying is mere BS.

Edward Feser said...

It's BS. But knowing J5, who is a convicted child molester, what would you expect?

(See, J5, anyone can just make stuff up!)

Anyway, it would be pretty silly for someone to put up a fake comment under Law's name when he's got his own blog and can deny it, no?

John said...

Hi guys. Isn't it just as effective to cite the resurrection as evidence for the goodness of God's moral character? That's what I've been doing. And it seems to me, the only response I get from this is that an evil God may have used the resurrection to give people false hope --which is an absolutely ridiculous counter-argument.

Stephen Law said...

Ah, thanks Edward. OK it's a bit clearer to me now what your objection is.

Well, first off let me just set the record straight on what the evil god challenge involves. I’m afraid you’ve at least partly misunderstood it. You say:

"So, while you might intelligibly put forward evil as evidence against the existence of God, you cannot intelligibly put it forward as evidence that God might be an "evil god" rather than a good God."

At no point have I ever put forward evil as evidence for an evil god. I didn’t even try. I simply take the evil god hypothesis (without arguing for it at all) and ask - is this god not pretty conclusively ruled out on the basis of the good we see? And if the answer is "yes", then I ask: "So why should we consider belief in a good god significantly more reasonable than this empirically ridiculous belief? That's the challenge I'm asking theists to meet.

Having hopefully made that clear, I’ll turn to your response to the challenge in my next comment…

Stephen Law said...

So, having set out your misundertsnding about the evil God challemge in previous comment, let me address the point you made re an evil God.

Your point comes down to this, it seems: “An "evil God," in the classical theistic sense of "God," is like a round square.”

This is what I called an “impossibility” argument. I dealt with those. The evil god challenge can easily sidestep them.

However, I think that you are (aren’t you?) also intending to run an argument for a good god that cannot be run for an evil god (though this argument is mixed together with your "round square" impossibility argument above, so it’s hard for me to be completely sure).

That’s to say, you are trying to establish a significant asymmetry between the two god hypothesis by showing that a positive case can be made for a good god that cannot be made for an evil god. And that case is based on your premises (a), (b) and (c) [(a) being the "privation" thesis re evil].

Is this what you have in mind, Edward?

BenYachov said...

@Prof Law
>This is what I called an “impossibility” argument. I dealt with those. The evil god challenge can easily sidestep them.

It seems to me it's an "impossibility argument" in the sense it's impossible to refute the existence of a Pantheistic view of God by offering a refutation of the Kalam Cosmological Argument & somehow concluding therefore a Pantheistic concept of God must be untrue because Kalam is untrue.

Which makes about as much sense as arguing the Bible contains contradictions by showing a contradiction in the Koran.

Brude fact Prof Law your evil God argument can only be applied to a Theistic Personalist deity not a Classic One.

That is what you have to deal with.

I'm not a professional philosopher but it seems to me Prof Law you are equivocating between different God concepts & that is a fallacy. Or you might be in danger of that. I'll let the professionals judge.

The Classic view of God is unlike the Theistic Personalist view just as basic Theism is different from Pantheism.

You have to deal with the God we all actually believe in guy. Not the one you wished we believe in.

If you can do that we are cool.

Anyway I will be interest in Dr. Feser's response which will likely be better than mine.

Cheers man. Have a good one.

djindra said...

Me: "Yet that same God is subject to praise as 'good'."

BenYachov: "Of course, but He is not praised for being 'well behaved', 'Sober', 'temperate', 'frugal' etc.... all of which is moral praise."

So God destroys life on earth in a flood and BenYachov responds, "That's a good boy. You didn't really mean it. Now go out and play."

That's what I mean by ludicrous. Silly and disingenuous might be better characterizations.

Tony said...

So God destroys life on earth in a flood and BenYachov responds, "That's a good boy. You didn't really mean it. Now go out and play."

That's what I mean by ludicrous. Silly and disingenuous might be better characterizations.

djindra, althouth I don't find your comments as irritating as BenY finds them, this one is really obnoxious. You are putting words into his mouth that explicitly contradict the entire tenor of his thesis. Bad karma, you know?

Tony said...

George, I agree, that's why I think that trying to give theodices as supposed "proofs" for the existence of God are a very dangerous kind of proceeding indeed, and not likely to be useful for that purpose. Now, a tentatively proposed, or partial theodicy, in which we account for one evil by reason of one superior good that follows out of it is a different undertaking.

Edward Feser said...

Hello Stephen,

Thanks for your comments. I am, of course, aware that you're not arguing for the existence of an evil god. And thus I am aware that you are not saying that the existence of evil is, full stop, evidence for the existence of an evil god. But what your "evil god challenge" does do is treat the existence of evil, at least for the sake of argument, as evidence for the existence of an evil god. You are saying: "IF you are going to treat the existence of good as evidence relevant to the existence of a deity, THEN you've got to treat the existence of evil as no less relevant. In particular, if you are going to take the existence of good as ruling out an evil god and supporting belief in a good god, you've got no reason not to go the other way instead and take the existence of evil as ruling out a good god and supporting belief in an evil god." I realize that you don't accept either view yourself (where did I imply otherwise?) You're just trying to put the theist in a pickle.

And the problem with this move, as I keep pointing out, is that it falsely supposes that good and evil, and thus the God of thei8sm and an "evil god," are on a metaphysical par. Perhaps they are on a theistic personalist view of God -- I'll let theistic personalists answer that -- but they definitely are not on a classical theist view of God, which is historically the mainstream view. Any argument for the God of classical theism is ipso facto an argument for something that cannot intelligibly be said to be evil, for the reasons I've stated several times now. Hence your "evil god challenge" is irrelevant to classical theism, and thus irrelevant to the theism of most of the prominent philosophical defenders of theism historically.

In response to your question, I am not running any sort of argument here for the existence of the God of classical theism (though I've done that at length elsewhere). I'm just pointing out that the way such arguments typically work rules out, in principle, getting to an "evil god." This is true of each of Aquinas's Five Ways, for example (for defense of which see my book Aquinas and my ACPQ article "Existential inertia and the Five Ways"). When fully set out, each of those arguments gets you to something that is pure actuality or subsistent being itself and thus (given the doctrine of privation and the doctrine of the transcendentals) something which cannot intelligibly be said to be in any respect evil. You might stalemate William Paley with an "evil god challenge," but not Aquinas (and, for that matter, not other classical theists like Anselm or Maimonides, nor pagan theists like Aristotle and Plotinus).

Re: your response to what you call "impossibility" arguments, I already answered that in my original long post on your "evil god challenge"! Perhaps you've forgotten. You can re-read the post here:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/10/laws-evil-god-challenge.html

Tony said...

This is what I called an “impossibility” argument. I dealt with those. The evil god challenge can easily sidestep them.

No, Dr. Law, actually you didn't. You only thought you did, with a somewhat facile argument that doesn't really come to grips with the underlying meaning of Daniel's argument. But more, because Daniels' argument is not the only, or even most important genre of "impossibility" posed by an "evil god". Here's what you said:

I believe Daniels’s argument trades on an ambiguity in his use of the word ‘good’. True, whenever I do something deliberately, I judge, in a sense, that what I do is ‘good’. But ‘good’ here need mean no more than, ‘that which I aim to achieve’. We have not yet been given any reason to suppose I cannot judge to be ‘good’, in this sense, what I also deem to be evil, because I desire evil. Yes, an evil god will judge doing evil to be ‘good’, but only in the trivial sense that evil is what he desires. Pace Daniels, there is no contradiction involved in an omniscient being judging evil to be, in this sense, ‘good’.

You ignore the real meaning, the metaphysical or psychological reflection, that underpins Daniels' argument. Now, maybe that metaphysics is wrong, but you cannot disprove the substance of his argument by taking a superficially similar phrase that means something other than what he means, and chop away at that.

But ‘good’ here need mean no more than, ‘that which I aim to achieve’ is pure nonsense, given Aristotelian metaphysics and psychology. 'Good' never means 'no more than I aim to achieve', that would never carry the weight we mean by 'good' in this argument or any other. according to Plato and Aristotle and others, the only sort of thing toward which one CAN incline is, inherently, only a sort of thing that appears as good, which is totally independent of "what you aim to achieve". Aristotle explains this (for us humans) by saying that the will is the intellectual appetite, whose very nature is to be drawn toward that which is perceived as good. The perception as good must necessarily precede the inclination of the will. Under this position, to propose 'good is merely that which one aims to achieve' precisely puts the cart before the horse, and mashes up everything. Your argument fails to take on the substance of Daniels' position AT ALL.

Feser's argument isn't in the least like Daniels' or like the 2nd "impossibility" argument at all, and therefore you have failed to take on his point. I don't want to repeat his argument yet again, that would be foolish. But if you are unable to see how Feser's and Daniels' are totally distinct then you don't understand the classical theism view as well as you think.

Correct me if I am wrong, but the 'evil god' argument is an argument whose structure is of this form: the type of evidential arguments posed in favor of a good god are, in form, just as good (in type) as arguments in favor of an evil god. We don't think that these arguments for an evil god are good form. Therefore we don't think that the same form of arguments in favor of a good god are good form.

Nothing about such an argument says anything at all about a God who is argued by another line of reasoning than the evidential approach.

Stephen Law said...

Hi Edward

I just reread the original post. The real problem with your objection, it turns out, is that you have apparently misunderstood my point re "impossibility arguments". You say:

{{{Law’s point (iii) – which he develops on p. 20 of his paper – is equally misdirected, because it too simply assumes that good and evil are on a metaphysical par. Law suggests (if I understand him correctly) that any reasons a theist could have for denying that an “evil god” is in principle possible could be mirrored by reasons suggesting that a good God is in principle impossible.}}}

That's not my point at all. 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.

At this point it looks like you want to offer an argument for why, not only is there a god, he's got to be good. Right? To offset what appears to be that mountain of evidence that there's no good god.

BTW, if you are still not sure what my point above is - compare this. Craig thinks he can show an actual infinite is impossible. It's ruled out conceptually, a priori.

However, Craig ALSO thinks there's excellent empirical evidence that the universe is of finite age (started with the Big Bang). Similarly, even if an evil god was ruled out conceptually, there could still ALSO be overwhelming empirical evidence against such a being. Actually, there is. THAT's my point. But then why is there not equally good evidence against the good god hypothesis? THAT is the challenge.

In short, your suggestion that the evil god challenge somehow just doesn't apply to your god is, well, confused.

What you are really doing it turns out, beyond saying "an evil god is impossible" (which is irrelevant) is saying, "Ah, but I've also got this really good argument that not only is there a god, it's got to be a good god."

Well maybe you have (and let's hope it's really, really good, given what it's up against in terms of empirical evidence to the contrary!). But that's the argument you need to run to meet the challenge. Otherwise you haven't met it.

Stephen Law said...

Tony, you said:

"Correct me if I am wrong, but the 'evil god' argument is an argument whose structure is of this form: the type of evidential arguments posed in favor of a good god are, in form, just as good (in type) as arguments in favor of an evil god. We don't think that these arguments for an evil god are good form. Therefore we don't think that the same form of arguments in favor of a good god are good form."

No that's not my argument at all. That would be a really crap argument.

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.

Perhaps this challenge can be met. But I cannot see how. Which is one reason I don't believe in a good god. Personal or not.

rad said...

If I may:

Law: "If the answer to that question is "yes", then the challenge remains to explain why a good god is not similarly ruled out."

Because you cannot rule out the source of being, just because there is a lack of being (evil). Just because there is less water in a river does not imply that there is no source for the remaining water in the river.

It is possible that there is pure good, which is pure existence (=ipsum esse subsistens=God), but it is impossible that there is pure evil (=evil God), which is pure nothing.

Its easy.

Stephen Law said...

rad

You say "it is impossible that there is pure evil (=evil God)"

You are just ignoring the point I just made re impossibility arguments.

rad said...

@Stephen Law

I dont know how you define "evil god". I assumed that an "evil god" is the absolute opposite of God. So it has to be pure evil, since God is pure good. But pure evil is just nothing, given the convertibility of the transcendentals (good, being, truth).

But lets assume its possible. Lets assume an evil god exists (whatever this means). You still cannot rule out the source of being, just because of that. Even if an evil god exists then there still has to be the classical God, and every other being depends on him for its existence, even evil god.

Jime said...

Hi Dr.Law,

I think Craig correctly saw what is wrong with your argument: you're assuming that theists think the property "good" (as applied to God) is based on an inductive survey of the world. So (the argumment follows) the good in the world would be evidence for God being "good".

In the above assumption (= that God's moral properties are a matter of inductive survey of the world) is based your "Evil God challenge".

Based on such empirical-inductive assumption, you says: "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?"

Note the inductivistic use of the words "empirical grounds", "we observe", etc. By the way, and more incidently, you assume that the "good" is an observable-empirical property. At least in this point, an empiricist like Richard Dawkins disagrees with you, because he says: "The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. (Richard Dawkins in River Out Of Eden (p.155. Emphasis added).

Returning to your challenge, your argument assumes that the evil God hypothesis predicts a world without the amount of good we observe. Therefore, the evidence for the existence of the amount of good we observe is (via modus tollens) "conclusive evidence" against the existence of evil God hypothesis.

In the same inducitve way, the evidence for the evil that we observe is conclusive evidence against the hypothesis that God is good.

This is your challenge.

But as Craig argued, the world is morally ambiguous, and theists have never arrived to the properties of God based on such an ambiguous evidence.

Since God is the greatest conceivable and perfect being (and this includes moral perfection), it is conceptually impossible that God be "evil". This point alone makes your challenge irrelevant.

At most, your challenge suggest the dificulty of using induction to discern an "evil designer" from God as the designer of the world. But your argument doesn't prove that God is in a metaphysical par with such an evil designer and therefore that the evidence for the evil is conclusive evidence against God in the same way that the existence of the good is conclusive evidence against an evil designer.

Jime said...

We could summarize Dr.Law's challenge in this way: "On inductive grounds, the morally ambiguous evidence that we observe in the world renders the hypothesis "An evil God exists" empirically on a par with the hypothesis "A good God exists", because the the good we observe refutes the former and the evil we observe refutes the latter".

The implication (and ultimate motivation of Dr.Law's argument) is that whatever argument we use to accept the existence of a good God is, mutatis mutandis, a reason we could use to accept the evidence for an evil God.

This is the "Dr.Law's challenge".

An again: the essential flaw of Dr.Law (which he couldn't refute in his debate with Craig) is that his entire challenge is based on the assumption that the moral properties of God are inferred on purely empirical-inductive survey of the evidence in the world. But as the evidence is morally ambiguous, both hypothesis (the evil God and the good God) are on a par.

I think any debate about Dr.Law's "evil God challenge" should be cognizant of this core (implicit but essential) assumption.

Stephen Law said...

"An again: the essential flaw of Dr.Law (which he couldn't refute in his debate with Craig) is that his entire challenge is based on the assumption that the moral properties of God are inferred on purely empirical-inductive survey of the evidence in the world."

Again no. I don't suppose the moral properties of god are inferred on empirical-inductive grounds. Obviously.

But I do assume that we can reasonably rule out SOME God hypotheses on empirical grounds. As indeed, does everyone, until that is, the penny drops... when suddenly they get hyper-skeptical like Craig did on the night.

Which is your prerogative too. But you'd better have a justification for that radical and highly counter-intutive degree of skepticism (that what we observe can gives us no clue AT ALL about the moral properties of god/s - good, bad or otherwise). Craig didn't.

Eric said...

Professor Law, you seem to be asking the classical theist to bracket the metaphysical/conceptual arguments he takes to establish the existence of a necessarily good god while he runs your evil god challenge. I'm not sure I understand (1) why he should do so, and (2) what this bracketing accomplishes. The classical theist thinks that he has good grounds for believing that a god of a certain kind exists, and you seem to be saying to him, "Yes, but ignore all that for the moment and focus only on the the empirical data we have against the existence of a good god from observing all the evil in the world." Why can't the classical theist say, "OK, if I ignore all the metaphysical arguments I think establish the existence of a certain kind of god and focus on the evil in the world only, my conclusion, stripped of all its support, seems implausible -- so what?" In other words, your impossibily argument seems to me to weaken the conclusion of your evil god argument so much that it's no longer interesting -- It would be (somewhat) like asking someone who had concluded that physicalism about consciousness was incoherent to ignore that for the moment and consider just certain empirical correlations between between brain activity and consciousness to make a point for physicalism.

Edward Feser said...

Hello again Stephen,

That's not my point at all. 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..."

I don't get this at all. Is there a typo here? If you grant even just for the sake of argument that an evil god is an impossibility, what's the point of going on to ask "But supposing it wasn't an impossibility..."?

Anyway, in general, you seem to me to be the one who is confused. I don't think you understand what the classical theist is even saying. E.g. you persistently present the issue as if it were a matter of weighing probabilities based on empirical evidence, as if the classical theist is saying "There's lots of good in the world, so we postulate the existence of God as the best explanation among the alternatives." Then you come along and try to stalemate such reasoning with the evil god hypothesis.

But that's simply not how classical theists typically argue. I submit that, like so many other atheists, you are fixated on Paley-style evidential arguments and are unaware that they are historically an aberration. Classical theists are typically in the business of trying to put forward metaphysical demonstrations, not inductive hypotheses.

E.g. when Aristotelians and Thomists argue for an Unmoved Mover, their claim is that all change necessarily involves the actualization of potentials, and that in an essentially ordered or instrumental series of actualizers of potentials, only what is pure actuality could even in principle be the ultimate source of the actualizing causal power of lower members in the series. Hence they claim that for there to be any change at all it is metaphysically necessary that there be a purely actual changer or actualizer of everything that changes. Now, what is purely actual is in no way lacking in being, so that (given the doctrines of privation and the transcendentals) it follows that it can in no way be lacking in goodness. Hence (if the argument works) if any change at all exists, then there is necessarily a purely actual unchanged changer that is, necessarily, in no way evil.

Now, I have not given this argument here, but just sketched the approach. (Again, I've defended it at length elsewhere.) There are all sorts of objections one might want to raise against it. (I deal with those elsewhere too.) But the "evil god challenge" is not at all a good objection. To say "Well, it's just as likely that the unchanged changer is evil as it is that He is good" would be muddleheaded. It's not just as likely; it's metaphysically impossible that He is evil, given the background metaphysics.

Now you might want to object to the background metaphysics in various ways. Fine. But in that case it is these objections that will be doing the work, and not the "evil god challenge."

The same holds for other arguments for the God of classical theism (e.g. Anselm's versions of the ontological argument, Neo-Platonic arguments for the One, etc.) You're simply not going to stalemate them with an evil god challenge, because (a) they are not inductive arguments from evidence which includes the existence of evil as well as the existence of good, and (b) they are all arguments for the existence of a deity which, given the background metaphysics, cannot intelligibly be said to be evil. And again, even if you object to the background metaphysics (or for that matter to the very idea of metaphysical demonstration rather than inductive hypothesis formation) it is those objections that will be doing the work, and not the "evil god challenge."

That is why I say that the "evil god challenge" is irrelevant to classical theism. It presupposes methodological and metaphysical assumptions that apply to theistic personalist arguments, but not to the arguments of classical theists.

BenYachov said...

@Prof Law,

I don't want to sound like I'm heckling you. I salute you for being a stand up guy & coming here to take the heat and being respectful in your disagreement with us.

But speaking for myself it seems to me you only have two options. 1) Concede your "Evil god" argument only has force against a Theistic Personalist concept of deity. or 2) Show us how it can be applied to a Classic Theistic concept of God without equivocating between the Classic view vs the Theistic Personalist view.

I get the same vibe as Prof Feser. Do you really understand the difference between the Classic View vs the Theistic Personalist view?

If not I recommend you consult AN INTRODUCTION TO PHILOSOPHY OF RELIGION by Brian Davies. The Chapter on "Concepts of God" being relevant here to the discussion.

Otherwise we waste each others times with mutual recriminations of who doesn't understand whom.

We Thomists and Thomistic fellow travelers all believe your argument only can be applied to a Theistic Personalist deity. Either agree with us or tell us why we are wrong.

Cheers to you for your time and consideration.

Daniel Smith said...

BenYachov: "As far as Satan is a "being" He is good. Of course Satan is a moral agent who has failed to be morally good & contains no moral good."

I don't get the distinction between "good" and "moral good".

"The damaged statue is still good as far as it exists and has being. If it where un-Made down to it's metaphysical existence and essence then it would become "pure evil"."

I fail to see how "being = good" and "non-being = evil". I can't help but think of good and evil in moral terms. Is there some link you (or someone else) can provide where this is explained in some detail?

Thanks!

JA said...

Personally, I think it's rude for the commenters to bombard Dr. Law with questions. He came here to respond to Professor Feser. Out of civility and so the conversation is not thrown off, it may be better to let them dialogue without interjection.

BenYachov said...

>I don't get the distinction between "good" and "moral good".

So if I say my rootbeer is good am I saying it's upright, well behavied, honest, adhears to it's duty? Or am I saying it tastes good? Is it coherent to call a draft of rootbeer "morally good"? But if I can't call it morally good does that mean it is not in anyway good?

>I fail to see how "being = good" and "non-being = evil". I can't help but think of good and evil in moral terms. Is there some link you (or someone else) can provide where this is explained in some detail?

This will take a while but I am going to send you to The Theologian/Philosopher himself from the SUMMA. Read at your lessure and get a copy of Dr. Feser's book.

Enjoy. use copy paste.

http://lonergan.org/?p=566

The Good in General
http://www.nd.edu/%7Eafreddos/summa-translation/Part%201/st1-ques05.pdf

God’s Goodness
http://www.nd.edu/%7Eafreddos/summa-translation/Part%201/st1-ques06.pdf

God’s Perfection
http://www.nd.edu/%7Eafreddos/summa-translation/Part%201/st1-ques04.pdf

The Distinction between Good and Evil
http://www.nd.edu/%7Eafreddos/summa-translation/Part%201/st1-ques48.pdf

The Cause of evil
http://www.nd.edu/%7Eafreddos/summa-translation/Part%201/st1-ques49.pdf

God’s Justice and Mercy
http://www.nd.edu/%7Eafreddos/summa-translation/Part%201/st1-ques21.pdf

Man’s Ultimate End
http://www.nd.edu/%7Eafreddos/summa-translation/Part%201-2/st1-2-ques01.pdf


The Goodness and Badness of Human Acts in General
http://www.nd.edu/%7Eafreddos/summa-translation/Part%201-2/st1-2-ques18.pdf

The Goodness and Badness of the Interior Act of Willing

http://www.nd.edu/%7Eafreddos/summa-translation/Part%201-2/st1-2-ques19.pdf

The Goodness and Badness of the Exterior Act

http://www.nd.edu/%7Eafreddos/summa-translation/Part%201-2/st1-2-ques20.pdf

What Accrues to Human Acts by Reason of their Goodness or Badness

http://www.nd.edu/%7Eafreddos/summa-translation/Part%201-2/st1-2-ques21.pdf

BenYachov said...

@JA
>Personally, I think it's rude for the commenters to bombard Dr. Law with questions.

If Dr. Law wishes to ignore questions put to him by persons other than Dr. feser that is his prerogative. I will not think less of him.

Who are you his press secretary?

Get the chip off your shoulder. I for one am gratified seeing arguments presented by an intelligent Atheist philosopher instead of the usual whining superficiality from Cult of the Gnu regulars.

Besides is it a rule on Dr. Law's blog only he gets to ask questions of visiting academics? Well?

BenYachov said...

@JA
>and so the conversation is not thrown off, it may be better to let them dialogue without interjection.

This of itself is a reasonable request if only you didn't accuse people who interjected questions and comments of being rude.

You see you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Besides what go is a philosophy blog if people can't ask questions?

Seriously?

JA said...

@Ben Yachov:

It's not a chip on my shoulder and I'm not his press secretary. It's about hospitality. This is not only about winning arguments, but also living virtuously--that is part of natural law and Christianity, no?

And yes, I understand that the social dynamics of a combox are not that of a live encounter, but that doesn't mean that civility must go out the window. If Christians want to convince others, it's about living uprightly as much as it is about winning arguments. Although it may not be much, that also means being civil in comboxes, especially when a guest appears by invitation of the blog host.

Further, while I understand your disagreement with my request and admonition, your response to me was not civil either. You could have disagreed without commenting, in a patronizing fashion, that I have "chip" on my "shoulder," whatever that means in this context, and sarcastically inquiring if I am his secretary, when I did nothing to warrant such words.

BenYachov said...

@JA

Sir you are presumptuous, it is not your combox nor is it mine. I will defer to the owner.

I will also be the adult here and ignore your further attempts to start trouble.

Such as trying to give lessons in civility while unjustly calling people who have thus far treated Dr. Law with impeccable politeness "rude".

I shall ask questions as I see fit till told otherwise by person in authority.

Good day to you sir. I will ignore your further posts till you learn to practice what you preach.

BenYachov said...

@Dr. Feser

I am sorry for the dust up & disturbing the peace of your blog.

So I will drop it & focus on the argument.

JA said...

@BenYachov:

I'm sorry that you feel that way, brother. It was not my intention to "cause trouble," be "presumptuous," not practice what I have been preaching, and not act like an adult, but merely express concern that bombarding Dr. Law with so many questions wasn't hospitable.

The level of discourse in comboxes, even when articulate, tends to suffer from over aggression, among other things. It just looked to me that when he entered the blog to engage Professor Feser, a half dozen people began questioning him, which did seem rude.

Now, perhaps I am very much wrong in this and the procession of discourse here fits the format, but I don't think that my comments warranted the remarks you made to me both earlier and the remarks I mention above. You could have very well responded without taking snipes at me.

Regardless, I hope you do change your mind about ignoring me. If not, God Bless and peace be upon you.

Tony said...

Dr. Law: No that's not my argument at all. That would be a really crap argument.

My argument is that there is, on the face of it, overwhelming empirical evidence AGAINST the good god hypothesis


No there isn't.

Well, perhaps that was a bit abrupt. I'll take it a little slower.

Since God is not directly observable, all of the directly observable empirical evidence can only be taken to be evidence ABOUT God by reasoned attribution: either inductively or deductively.

There is plenty of evil in the world. If the SHEER FACT of evil, even one iota of evil, were the "overwhelming evidence" it could only do so on the shoulders of a prior metaphysical argument, that a good God implies that any universe He creates could not have one iota of evil.

Now, there are some people who claim this, but they have a pretty tough time proving it. Even on human terms of good and evil, we know that some great goods are achieved through accepting some prior evil of a lesser order, and generally people admit that they would rather suffer the preparatory evil to get to the good than to pass up both the evil and the good. In any case, the "overwhelming evidence" doesn't do its work without a philosophical argument, and that argument is NOT one you made.

(To be fair, you make mention of this position, and you don't pursue it at all because your argument isn't about this question.)

Or, the other way to make it out is that the empirical evidence is that the relative quantity of evil compared to the good in the universe is incompatible with a good God. His words:

Many argue that not only is there little reason to suppose that the god of classical monotheism exists, the sheer quantity of evil that exists provides us with overwhelming empirical evidence that he doesn’t. Those theists who
maintain that belief in God, if not proved, is at least not unreasonable, are mistaken. Far from being a question reason cannot decide, the claim that the god of classical monotheism exists seems to be straightforwardly empirically
falsiļ¬ed.


The proof: "Many argue."

That's all. Many argue. Wow. Whelmed, I'm sure. Dr. Law doesn't address another word to establishing the point, he instead goes on assuming the point is made. Many argue that the Earth is flat, too.

Of course, the notion that the relative weight of evil versus good is "empirical evidence" against a good God also rests on a very large philosophical argument about what constitutes goods and evils, how to establish the relative weights of goods and evils of different orders (like physical evil versus moral good, for example,) and a bunch more. Most important of all, it rests on an argument about WHAT relation between good and evil is necessary to a good God. None of which did Dr. Law hash out either, nor did he realistically point to others who are fairly considered to have nailed it down for all.

Outside of one of these two approaches, nothing coherent can be made of his suggestion that there is "overwhelming empirical evidence" against a good God as the STARTING point of his thesis. The only overwhelming evidence that we can fairly say is "evil exists."

I guess I was being overly charitable in my interpretation of his argument. I assumed that he was not putting any really heavy weight on the supposition that the "overwhelming empirical evidence" is against a good God, because it is such a flimsy support to put so much weight on it. In fact, I was wrong, he repeats (above) that this is the premise of his whole argument, and he doesn't argue to it at all he merely presumes it.

So, all that is needed to undermine the "evil god" argument is to say "the premise is undemonstrated. It requires much work that has never been done."

BenYachov said...

@JA

Perhaps I was a bit harsh with you & for that I apologize.

But seriously calling people rude without just cause by definition will invite a harsh response.
What do you expect?

I have gone out of my way to be respectful toward Prof Law in my posts because I deeply appreciate such social intercourse and everyone else here in my judgement has done the same.

I saw no attacks on his character, honor, academic credentials or ad hominids of any kind.

Believe you me if I see them I will be the first to lay into the culprit.

So peace to you.

BenYachov said...

@Ja

>I'm sorry that you feel that way, brother. It was not my intention to "cause trouble," be "presumptuous," not practice what I have been preaching, and not act like an adult, but merely express concern that bombarding Dr. Law with so many questions wasn't hospitable.

I didn't see your apology till after my last post. So I accept it & I hope you will accept mine.

Let us have peace then brother.

BenYachov said...

@JA

>merely express concern that bombarding Dr. Law with so many questions wasn't hospitable.

I've seen Dr. Feser get bombarded with questions here. He from my observations simply answers the ones he is interested in and ignore what doesn't fancy him.

It's not a crime. Like I said I would not think less of Dr. Law if he never respond to any of my posts here.

If he did I'd be trilled. But this is not politics where you have to answer everybody or be labeled "ducking the question".

This is philosophy. Even if Prof Law doesn't answer anybody but Feser he can at least get a sense of what Feser's fans have learned from him.

If I can't question it it's not philosophy.

Peace to you.

JA said...

Ben, thank you for your gestures to peace. I very much appreciate them.

On topic, it does seem like Dr. Law has misunderstood Professor Feser. The former is making an inductive claim, the latter a metaphysical one. Further, since classical theism doesn't historically take kindly to inductive demonstrations of God's nature--nearly every classical rational argument regarding God's nature and existence, from the ontological to the cosmological, is predicated upon deductive reasoning--than it appears that Dr. Law's argument does not apply here. For those who rely on inductive arguments for God's nature, however, that may be different.

Perhaps Dr. Law has a response to this though? His next comment should be interesting now that Professor Feser has more carefully clarified his position to clear up the confusion.

Brigadier said...

Hello Mr Law!

"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?"

But this is what I deny. It seems a stretch to claim there are no greater evils for which an evil deity might be aiming. Your evil-God challenge is basically an attempt to undermine skeptical theism, or make it look silly. But I am prepared to bite the bullet that there is no empirical evidence that there is no evil God. (Although I do think that such a hypothesis can be ruled out because of impossibility arguments.)

Buckeye said...

Prof Law please address Fesers point he posted on November 6, 2011 2:17 PM- I like your argument but his comment about your understanding of the classical theist position keeps getting brought up and not just by him. Others have said your misapplying your argument here because you're assuming the classical theist position is ultimately derived via inductive reasoning. You responded to others "no it's not" but it really seems like it is. The charge has come up enough now that I think you really need to address that point in detail. If I'm misunderstanding something here please point it out.

John said...

And Stephen Law continues to assert over at his blog that the good and evil in the world --"empirical observations"-- can allow us to ascertain the moral character of God. Sheesh.

He says:

"Craig has no decent response to the evil God challenge. He tried (i) playing the skeptical card, insisting that empirical observation can give us no grounds for supposing there’s no good or evil god. This is (a) implausible, and (b) received no decent supporting argument."

Actually, Stephen, Craig DID give an argument as to why, given our epistemic position, we are unable to know such things through empirical observations.

Further, YOU'RE the one who's making a positive claim here that we can, so the burden is on YOU to show that God cannot have morally sufficient reasons for allowing evil in the world.

Mr. Law, seriously, you can't possibly be this dense.

Untenured said...

At this point, I think we can all smell the blood in the water. Stephen Law has lost the argument, and he has lost badly. He has not shown how his "evil God challenge" can overcome any of the classical arguments for God's existence. He hasn't even displayed an awareness of the dialectical situation.

Law's "evil God challenge" presupposes that that Good and Evil are metaphysically symmetrical, and we have decisive reasons to believe otherwise. He has not even acknowledged these reasons, let alone countered them.

All Law has managed to do is reiterate his "empirical" challenge to the Theist, a challenge that is rendered irrelevant by the metaphysical background to the classical theistic proofs.

Stephen Law has been respectful and gracious, and at the very least he has had the integrity to respond to his critics up front. This alone distinguishes him from incompetent poseurs like Jerry Coyne and P.Z. Myers.

But by his recent responses, I think he has made it clear that he simply doesn't know what he is up against.

rad said...

Sidenote:

I think St. Augustines discussion of the God vs evil god is somewhat relevant here:

http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1402.htm

He refutes Laws error right in the first two chapters.

JA said...

@Untenured: I think you are quite right regarding what you refer to as "metaphysical symmetry" between good and evil. My initial impression of Dr. Law's argument was that he was question begging a sort of Manicheanism. His critical errors are (a) the claim that the ontological character of good and evil can be established as symmetrical through inductive argumentation and (b) your observation that he assumes that the ontological character of good and evil is symmetrical.

This, of course, doesn't necessarily invalidate his arguments against theists who make inductive arguments themselves about the nature of God, but it does mean a different tact must be taken against metaphysical arguments.

JA said...

Apparently, Rad saw this connection to Manicheanism as well, evident by the link he provides to one of Augustine's works on the subject.

DNW said...

Untenured writes,

"Stephen Law has been respectful and gracious, and at the very least he has had the integrity to respond to his critics up front."

guments."



I agree.

I still however cannot come to grips with the naturalist's use of the term "evil".

What can it possibly mean when in a world of blind physics, they utter such a word?

JA said...

@DnW

Law isn't arguing for an evil God or even the existence of evil. In his words:

At no point have I ever put forward evil as evidence for an evil god. I didn’t even try. I simply take the evil god hypothesis (without arguing for it at all) and ask - is this god not pretty conclusively ruled out on the basis of the good we see? And if the answer is "yes", then I ask: "So why should we consider belief in a good god significantly more reasonable than this empirically ridiculous belief? That's the challenge I'm asking theists to meet.

It seems to be that he is beginning with the assumptions of some theists--without accepting them--in order to offer a counter argument under those same assumptions that invalidates their conclusion about the nature of God as "good."

Tony said...

Untenured and JA, I suspect you are right. I just had trouble thinking that Dr. Law, a professional, could publish a journal article without having thought through the basic argument carefully in light of intelligent questions from multiple opponents. But apparently he managed to do so.

I do think that he has argued in a polite and thoughtful manner, and has provided a worthwhile discussion. I could wish that he WOULD undertake to consider his premise with a better reflection of the wider world of theism than inductive evidentially based arguments for a good God, he might bring to light some interesting points. I think that within the carefully circumscribed sphere of inductive evidential arguments he presents some good work.

Daniel Smith said...

Thanks BenYachov.
I've got me some homework to do!

Daniel Smith said...

It seems to me that the "evil god challenge" is just the argument from evil all dressed up with no place to go.

He's basically saying that evil is evidence against a good God in the same way that good is evidence against an evil god.

Of course no one has ever argued for the latter and only atheists who don't understand the classical case for God argue for the former.

Mark Szlazak said...

William Lane Craig says he agrees with Law's symmetry:

The claim of the argument is that given the existence of an evil god, it is highly improbable that the goods in the world would exist (Pr (goodsevil god << 0.5)). By the same token, given the existence of God, it is highly improbable that the suffering in the world would exist (Pr (sufferingGod << 0.5)). So just as the goods in the world constitute overwhelming evidence against the existence of an evil god, the suffering in the world constitutes overwhelming evidence against the existence of God.

I suspect that Law thinks that theists will try to deny the symmetry between these two cases. But that would be a mistake. The two situations strike me as symmetrical—I would just say that in neither case would we be justified in thinking that the probability is low.


Here is a link to the rest of Craig's response:

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=9162

Anonymous said...

"William Lane Craig says he agrees with Law's symmetry:"

Sure, but Craig rejects classical theism and the sort of God Feser is defending and describing.

OTOH, I thing Law doesn't even do well against the sort of God Craig is describing.

Tony said...

By the same token, given the existence of God, it is highly improbable that the suffering in the world would exist (Pr (sufferingGod << 0.5)).

What is Craig thinking here? It doesn't make sense.

DNW said...

JA said...

@DnW

Law isn't arguing for an evil God or even the existence of evil. In his words:

At no point have I ever put forward evil as evidence for an evil god. I didn’t even try. I simply take the evil god hypothesis (without arguing for it at all) and ask - is this god not pretty conclusively ruled out on the basis of the good we see? And if the answer is "yes", then I ask: "So why should we consider belief in a good god significantly more reasonable than this empirically ridiculous belief? That's the challenge I'm asking theists to meet.

It seems to be that he is beginning with the assumptions of some theists--without accepting them--in order to offer a counter argument under those same assumptions that invalidates their conclusion about the nature of God as "good."
November 7, 2011 3:09 PM "


Right ... then as you say, "some theists" ...

So, I certainly did understand that he's not arguing for the actual existence of an evil god; and that he was arguing contra the existence of a "Good God" by reversing the thesis and the arguments supposedly employed by the target theists themselves. This, in order to illustrate the absurdity of their supposed inference: wherein they argue (apparently) from the premise of natural goods in the world to the conclusion of a supernaturally existing "Good" beyond.

Thus, it appears, if natural good rules out a hypothetical evil god, shouldn't then, natural evil rule out ....?

Is this then the sum of the argument?

Ok, maybe Law is in fact arguing against William Paley. Never could get anything out of Paley myself. So I am in no position to defend him.


What puzzles me to no end, is how in Law's essay, he refers to some supposed problem presented by aeons of previously existing natural evil. And his illustration of this evil is - apparently, and maybe I should reread it - the pain suffered by "sentient" creatures some many millions of years ago.

This strikes me as just too funny.

Because that seems to me, to imply that Law thinks the notion of the pain experienced by dinosaur young being gobbled by say, synapsids (I was going to write theropods, not being up on my dynosaurisms) or early mammals, to be a significant "moral" challenge to theists: That this experience of "pain" by what he claims is a sentient being, is in itself an example of "evil".

It would seem to be a problem however, even for Paley types I would guess, only if you define the "pain" in and of itself, of reptiles and the like, as a kind of natural evil with metaphysical implications.

Why should anyone think that?

Doesn't this move, this definition of natural evil as the pain experienced by sentients, (and we come full circle here), indicate that a Bentham-like definitional assumption of bad or evil is being imported to do its work? Why? In hopes of precipitating an internal, and thus logical contradiction where one needn't exist?

It could well be that Law is arguing from a position of studied naivete against one of unconscious naivete; and that I just have never met anyone who argued along the lines of the theists Law is arguing against.


I'll take another look ...

JA said...

@DNW: Right. I remember you mentioning this earlier, but for some reason, I thought it was in the context of Rosenberg's bit, not Law's.

I think you are right to suggest that this move weakens his argument. It is one thing to simply assume the premises of a certain kind of theist in order to follow their argument and demonstrate how the conclusion does not follow, but it is quite another thing to positively define evil as pain. This seems entirely superfluous to the thrust of his argument, even distracting.

DNW said...

JA said...

@DNW: Right. I remember you mentioning this earlier, but for some reason, I thought it was in the context of Rosenberg's bit, not Law's."


I may have said it there as well. It is in fact as we all realize, one of the principle logical themes and problems repeatedly mentioned by most commenters here: The difficulty of seeing what a naturalist can mean if he tries to self-consistently use the term "evil" in some non-relativistic and arbitrary sense.

It usually seems as if - to use someone else's phrase here - they are either smuggling in some non-naturalist metaphysically flavored sense of the term for rhetorical purposes, or deploying a utilitarian definition which on their own naturalistic or physicalistic premises, ultimately reduces to cosmic meaninglessness, or triviality.

'Algae are grazed, dinosaur chicks are eaten alive ... it's all entropy in the end. So what if you don't like being in pain ...? On your own terms it is not explicative or indicative of any framework objectively determinable as more profoundly or deeply good.'

Of course if we try and take the utilitarian idea seriously and try to think it through, we do wind up reducing it to the formulation that, 'pleasure exists for the sake of pleasure'. Rather than pleasure being revealed as a signal or expression of something else that is ordinately good.


" I think you are right to suggest that this move weakens his argument. It is one thing to simply assume the premises of a certain kind of theist in order to follow their argument and demonstrate how the conclusion does not follow, but it is quite another thing to positively define evil as pain. This seems entirely superfluous to the thrust of his argument, even distracting.
November 7, 2011 6:40 PM "


Yeah, well, I may have earlier drawn in what looked like a misleading strand, by following one of Feser's links to a previous exchange, and then importing Law's rejoinder in this series.

Taken as a stand alone challenge, it looked to be pretty unqualified.

I had quoted Law from elsewhere as saying:


"Fesser’s “refutation” of my evil god argument is awful:
(i) it depends on the privation view of evil, which is wrong. (Why not flip this and say good is a privation of evil?!)"


With that, I seemingly had a reference to a non-Paleyian framework; and with that the potential implications of a double negation problem; based on a grant that the idea of evil represents the privation, or the cause of the privation, of a positive good.

And now I think I'll shut up for a bit, as I am probably on the verge of confusing even myself.

djindra said...

Tony,

"djindra, althouth I don't find your comments as irritating as BenY finds them, this one is really obnoxious. You are putting words into his mouth that explicitly contradict the entire tenor of his thesis. Bad karma, you know?"

BenY and I have a history. I think I hit his thesis on the head. Nevertheless, if I did put words in his mouth it's a matter of bad karma catching up with him.

Buckeye said...

Hello all - not to be pushy, but can someone address the criticism to prof Law that he's using an inductive approach to bolster his Evil God argument?
I feel like a broken record requesting if someone can touch on this. It appears to be a valid objection to the argument.

At first it seemed to be a pretty clever and cogent argument. But I'll be honest: I was completely unfamiliar with the "theistic personalism" vs "classical theism" distinction.
The way Feser puts his objection to the Evil God argument really does make sense.
If anyone thinks I'm just doing this to stack the deck against Prof Law, that's perfectly fine. But, in thinking that please at least address the charge that keeps getting brought up.

Buckeye said...

djindra, you certainly seem to have alot to say but you're not saying anything of worth to the topic.
You appear to agree with Prof Law. So, opposed to bickering can you tackle the charge that many theists are making to Prof Law's argument?
Hopefully you are here to do more than just stir a pot. And if you are here to do more what better thing to do than to knock down the charge leveled at Prof Law.

BenYachov said...

Dude don't feed the Troll(djindra)!

We want Prof Law to come back.

We like intelligent Atheist philosophers! We really do. The anti-Philosophy Gnu fanatics who can't get pased their warmed over unconscious positivism should be ignored. They have no challenge to offer.

Hardy Har Har said...

A "troll"-- anyone who doesn't agree with Feser's lapdog Yachov.

I don't think you understand the evidential argument from evil, Yachov. Traditional theists assert an all-benevolent (aka Good) and all-powerful Being exists, and ..yet He creates plagues, diseases wars, etc. Maybe you can see the problem. Maybe not. Even for believers it's an issue (the Book of Job concerned with the POE)

Or try the cliffnotes to Voltaire's Candide.

Anonymous said...

Not lapdog, but bulldog.

Hardy Har Har said...

Feser as ...Dr Pangloss!
Yess. The best of all possible worlds (actually likemost Thomistic sorts he's saying somethig even stronger than Leibniz's chestnut). It's..... poifect

BenYachov said...

>A "troll"-- anyone who doesn't agree with Feser's lapdog Yachov.

Yet Prof Law disagrees with Prof Feser & even thought I disagree with him I have done nothing but praise him & will take issue with any dirtbag who dares call him a troll?

Nice try troll boy.

Hardy Har Har said...

No Ben Troll, you don't understand the Evil God hypothetical--

A spacecraft is located, and it's determined that it contains an Apollo-like Being. He's in a good mood but....Earth scientists prove He has been in controlling earth history for...the last few hundred thousand years. So he personally ordered..all plagues, natural disasters,and..human history as well--wars, dictators, crimes,etc. So what is the proper response--To worship him? No. He would promptly be put on trial (assuming he could be arrested) for the greatest crimes against humanity, would he not? Just for say the tsunami of 2004. Yeah. (Roddenberry used this scenario a few times).

BenYachov said...

I'm a Star Wars/Red Dwarf/Babylon 5 fan!

I have nothing to say to you Trekkie!

The nerve!

Anonymous said...

"Hardy Har Har" said...

"A spacecraft is located, and it's determined that it contains an Apollo-like Being. He's in a good mood but....Earth scientists prove He has been in controlling earth history for...the last few hundred thousand years. So he personally ordered..all plagues, natural disasters,and..human history as well--wars, dictators, crimes,etc."

Kinky story, but how is this relevant?

Buckeye said...

Hardy Har Har, you have nothing to offer either. You object to Ben's use of troll and then you act like a troll.

I have no doubt you came from Law's blog to come over here and mock that some no longer (or never) agree with his argument.

I would like to have one issue addressed with it but there has been no addressing the charge that has been brought up time and time again with his argument's relevance to classic theist conception of God.

And here you are, playing the atheist role quiet nicely.
I asked jindra to do this so I'll ask you too: please address the charged leveled against Law's argument.
You should know the charge by now - but this assumes that you aren't just here to stir things up and blow smoke.

Buckeye said...

Hardy said:
"I don't think you understand the evidential argument from evil, Yachov. Traditional theists assert an all-benevolent (aka Good) and all-powerful Being exists, and ..yet He creates plagues, diseases wars, etc."

Do you even read what your commenting on? How many times does this need to be pointed out?
Your response is EXACTLY what Law was saying his argument was NOT doing. You clearly have no way to support the conclusion of the argument because you're falling into the same trap Feser accused Prof Law of falling into.... which then prompted Prof Law to claim he was NOT making.
I wanted to have the matter cleared up, because Feser's charge really seemed to stick to Law and I am hoping Law comes back and shows where Feser is mistaken and here you come.... proving Feser's point.

BenYachov said...

Who can take someone with the moniker "Hardy Har Har" seriously?

Heuristics said...

It appears that Law has provided a question, not an argument. The question has the purpose of undercutting the epistemological justification for somebody that argues that God is good based on empirical data by highlighting that the opposite case can be made as well.

The primary problem with this question is not if it is applicable to a classical conception of God or not, this is a secondary concern. The primary problem is finding out who it is that is arguing for Gods goodness based on empirical data. If the person the question is posed to has not argued this and has no intention of doing so the question is simply irrelevant.

So, it is a question aimed at providing an epistemological justification destroyer, not an argument for Gods non-existence but it might just be irrelevant in nearly every case.

So in conclusion it is not an interesting question and it is not an argument for Gods non-existence.

Eric said...

I just posted the following at Professor Law's site (any thoughts?):

Professor Law, you wrote:

"My claim is that, while Christians usually do not make claims about God's nature based on what they observe (for obvious reasons) [WHICH IS WHAT CRAIG ACCUSED ME OF SUPPOSING, WRONGLY], we can find grounds for ruling out certain God hypotheses beyond reasonable doubt on the basis of what we observe....However, even if, in order to salvage your particular theistic belief from empirical refutation, you reject this pretty unremarkable suggestion, you still have to explain why belief in a good god is so very much more reasonable than the absurd belief in an evil god."

and

"Well no, as I am asking, more generally, why is a good god more reasonable than the absurd evil god."

What I'm having a hard time understanding is that it seems to me that the classical theist does precisely what you're asking him to do ("you still have to explain why belief in a good god is so very much more reasonable than the absurd belief in an evil god" and "I am asking, more generally, why is a good god more reasonable than the absurd evil god") -- i.e. explaining why the notion of an evil god is absurd, indeed impossible, while the notion of a good god is not -- yet you still insist, via your 'impossibility argument,' that your evil god challenge can be nonetheless run.

As I understand it, your impossibility argument requires the classical theist to bracket the metaphysical arguments that he thinks show that the notion of an evil god is incoherent and to focus instead on the empirical data alone (amounts of observable good and evil in the world). Is this accurate? If so, why can't the classical theist concede the evil god challenge *on those grounds* without in any way conceding any relevant ground re the evidential POE? That is, why can't he simply say, "Yes, you're right: If I ignore all the metaphysical arguments that support my conclusions about god's existence and nature, and focus only on the good and evil I observe in the world, the notion of a good god is just as, or almost as silly as the notion of a good god. Now, so what?"

It seems to me that the evil god challenge, run via the impossibility argument, fails to reach a substantive or even interesting conclusion at all, for the classical theist has a number of independent reasons for believing that god exists, that he has a certain nature, that he's necessarily good (as they understand the term), etc., and that you're then left right where you were before running the evil god challenge, viz. dealing with the specific arguments they adduce to support the existence and nature of god.

What am I missing?

Daniel Smith said...

It seems to me that professor Law's argument doesn't work unless we first agree that the mere existence of good would rule out an evil god.

His concept of God then is one in which everything that happens is by God's will and with his approval. There can be no free will in prof. Law's universe. An evil god could not will for good to happen that evil would result, etc.

It seems easily defeated to me (I'm just a novice though - maybe I'm missing something far deeper?)

Tony said...

The question has the purpose of undercutting the epistemological justification for somebody that argues that God is good based on empirical data by highlighting that the opposite case can be made as well.

Heuristic, that's just what I said he was doing. Of course, Law came back and denied it (called that position a "crap" argument)...and then went on to explain exactly the same thing all over again is what he was doing.

Jime backed the same perspective on Law's argument:

We could summarize Dr.Law's challenge in this way: "On inductive grounds, the morally ambiguous evidence that we observe in the world renders the hypothesis "An evil God exists" empirically on a par with the hypothesis "A good God exists", because the the good we observe refutes the former and the evil we observe refutes the latter".

Given that Jime isn't a Feser stooge at all, and several others have noticed exactly the same issue, I think it is an acceptable conclusion that this is just what Law is arguing. Dr. Law keeps wishing his argument weren't limited by the empirical/evidential nature it has, but that's a pretty hopeless wish since it is, in its entirety, an argument about the sorts of conclusions that can be developed from empirical evidence.

E.H. Munro said...

I don't think you understand the evidential argument from evil, Yachov. Traditional theists assert an all-benevolent (aka Good) and all-powerful Being exists, and ..yet He creates plagues, diseases wars, etc. Maybe you can see the problem. Maybe not. Even for believers it's an issue (the Book of Job concerned with the POE)

There are several problems with this statement. Leaving aside, for the moment, just what a "traditional theist" is, because that's a term that would need definition. Your statement muddles the difference between sacred and natural theology. It also rests upon a sectarian definition of deity (and a very old testament definition at that). All told it seems to me that you don't actually understand the argument from evil.

When you state that god "creates plagues, diseases wars, etc." you are making two very specific claims about deity. One that it does not permit independent action of intelligent agents; because if god "creates wars" then god is taking away the power from the actual participants in any given war to make their own decisions. It does no good to restate the proposition as "god permits wars" because you run in to the exact same problem. Let's go to a real world example to illustrate. You are either claiming that god took possession of George W. Bush to order the US to invade Iraq or that god should have taken possession of George W. Bush to stop said invasion. But to make either argument you need to establish, metaphysically, why this should be so.

Second, the statement rests on the definition of god as demiurge. Put another way; it rests on an assumption of reality as a giant Irwin Shaw film as directed by Michael Bay with god as Michael Bay. Again, you would need to establish this version of reality in argument first. Now, that particular argument could be effective when deployed against believers with a very mechanist notion of deity. After all, if one believes that god supervenes on human choice and intervenes in nature then one can hardly object when someone asks you why god doesn't do so for the better all the time. But it seems a less effective argument when deployed against the classical view of deity.

Within the context of classical theism one needs to use the logical problem of evil, which you apparently don't understand given your statement.

Lastly, your statement is actually at odds with what Professor Law himself says, so far from Ben "not understanding what Law is saying", it's yourself suffering under a misunderstanding. The evil god challenge and the logical problem of evil are different arguments as the good professor made clear in his posts here. It's a far more effective argument against the mechanist notions of deity than the logical problem of evil is, and for that I give him credit. To quote Ben, when it comes to the god of personal theism I'm a strong atheist, so anything that rids the world of that view of deity is AOK in my book.

BenYachov said...

>Traditional theists assert an all-benevolent (aka Good) and all-powerful Being exists, and ..yet He creates plagues, diseases wars, etc.

OTOH Hardy simply sees God purely in anthropomorphic terms. God to him is another being along side us( not psum esse subsistens (Subsistent Act of Existing Itself) only more uber like Q from from Star Trek.

Such a being has moral obligations to us.

Good and Evil are to him conceived solely in moral terms(leaching generously from Judeo-Christian moral tradition) and or in consequentialist terms.

Not in ontological or metaphysical terms.

In short he is screaming "No fair you are not a Fundamentalist! I have to actually learn something before I can even attempt to criticize your belief! No fair!".

Ah screw em! Bloody Gnu's.

bah!

Untenured said...

@Eric:

You aren't missing a thing. When directed at Classical Theism, Law's "evil God challenge" is no more compelling than the following argument:

"You claim that you can show the numbers are infinite by an alleged deduction from Peano's axioms. But nothing in our experience of the world shows that it is any more reasonable to believe that the numbers are infinite than it is to believe that the numbers are finite. Therefore, you have no good reason to think that the numbers are infinite. You have not answered my "finite numberline" challenge."

Paul said...

I am on the verge of giving up trying to understand the Evil God Challenge! I have read and (think) I understand responses such as Dr Feser's and others, but Dr Law is difficult to follow as to why he objects to those objections. Oh well, it's probably just me!

What I've done below is to select two quotations from Dr Law's com box that - for me - state his position clearly on the EGC and the Craig debate. Beyond that I must leave any disagreements to people like the good Dr Feser.

1) "The challenge is to explain why belief in a good god is significantly more reasonable than belief in an evil god. Craig tried to meet the challenge, but failed." - Dr Law

2) "...the theist thinks he or she has good grounds for supposing a good god is very significantly more reasonable than an evil god. But I have yet to see them. Which is one reason why I am an atheist." - Dr Law

As a final point, one statement that I actually thought got to the heart of Dr Law's argument was Eric's - see below:

"As I understand it, your impossibility argument requires the classical theist to bracket the metaphysical arguments that he thinks show that the notion of an evil god is incoherent and to focus instead on the empirical data alone (amounts of observable good and evil in the world). Is this accurate? If so, why can't the classical theist concede the evil god challenge *on those grounds* without in any way conceding any relevant ground re the evidential POE? That is, why can't he simply say, "Yes, you're right: If I ignore all the metaphysical arguments that support my conclusions about god's existence and nature, and focus only on the good and evil I observe in the world, the notion of a good god is just as, or almost as silly as the notion of a good god. Now, so what?" - Eric

This makes sense to me - it's about the only thing that does at the moment! :(

Tony said...

Paul: but Dr Law is difficult to follow as to why he objects to those objections. Oh well, it's probably just me!

No, no, it's not just you. It is Eric, and Untenured, and BenY, and E.H. Munro, and me, and Dr. Feser, ALL think that Dr. Law is simply trying to shoehorn the classical argument into the completely foreign "probable" model on the evidential basis. Since it has nothing to do with that model, Law is going about arguing the matter inappropriately. Law thinks if the shoe doesn't fit, lop off the toes and the heel until it does fit. The classical argument is saying: this isn't a foot to begin with, it is an ocean of water, there is no such thing as "lopping off" toes or heels or anything else, and you can't shoehorn an ocean into a shoe.

John said...

Very well said Tony. The annoying thing about Stephen is that, when pressed about the seeming contradictions in what he's been saying of late, he responds with something childish like "You don't understand my argument!". Then he goes on explaining his argument while affirming no one has been doing anything of the sort.

Untenured said...

@John:

You are quite right, and I am almost ready to retract the nice things I said about professor Law earlier. His bluff has been called, and yet he continually refuses to answer some rather obvious objections to his precious "evil God" argument.

I don't like arm-chair psychology, but in the case I'll indulge in a bit of it. Stephen Law seems to be very, very proud of his "evil God" argument, and he is loathe to acknowledge that it is not the Theism-destroying super-weapon that he thinks it is. And his pride is now causing him to make a fool of himself. Instead of just acknowledging the point, he just keeps doubling-down. It is embarrassing.

BenYachov said...

He was still polite & not condescending. So keep saying nice things about the man.

The quality and coherence of his actual argument OTOH..........

Go to town.

Tony said...

Untenured, I just re-read Dr. Law's replies here, and you know what? They are so bad, so unresponsive and so illogical, that I don't think they are the work of the same person who wrote the article. Either (a) this person really isn't Dr. Law, or (b) he is suffering under some excessive mental strain and cannot be taken to be in his right mind at the moment. Look at this again:

there could still ALSO be overwhelming empirical evidence against such a being. Actually, there is. THAT's my point. But then why is there not equally good evidence against the good god hypothesis? THAT is the challenge.

It's horrible. I doubt a Phil 101 student could con a prof into a grade better than a C if he wrote something like that. (40 years ago it would have been a D or F, but with grade inflation and all...) Phrasing it as "why is there not equally good evidence against the good god hypothesis means he is thinking that by argument structure it is up to the good god supporters to show that the evidence for the good god is of equal form as the really bad evidence for an evil god. It just makes no sense.

Untenured said...

@Tony:

I do not doubt that we are dealing with the real Professor Law. Here are some dirty little secrets about our profession.

1)You can get tenure, and become a well respected professional philosopher without knowing jack doodle about the history of philosophy. One publication in a top journal gets you to the head of the line, even if you are an empty suit in terms of your general knowledge of philosophy.

2)If you defend the "right" positions, the standards of evidence that will be professionally required of you are much lower than they would be if you were defending one of the "wrong" positions. You will get cut a lot of slack arguing against Theism or Dualism or conservative moral positions. If you defend scientism or atheism or feminism or physicalism you can get away with an awful lot of bullsh*t.

In short, philosophy today isn't what it once was or what it should be. It is dominated by group-think, trendiness, and superficiality. Law has the professional and demographic winds at his back, and so he can and will continue to get away with this, and will be permitted to burble on unchallenged in venues of professional repute.

John said...

Seriously, Stephen is like:

"Well if you think evil god cannot exist because of all the good in the world, then you really must believe good God cannot exist because of all the evil in the world!"

Theist: "Uh, but we cannot know such things through empirical observations of the good or evil in the world."

Stephen: "Well now you're being super skeptical! You have to give me a reason for your super-skepticism!"

Theist: "I'm not being skeptical, that's just the way it is, actually"

Stephen: "No, you've misunderstood my argument!"

This is really all that it amounts to at this point. I wish I were kidding.

Crude said...

The 'super skeptical' card is one I've noticed with Law, and I think there's a reason he's playing it.

See, whatever there is to his argument absolutely, crucially relies on this claim: There's so much good in the world that, on that basis alone, an evil God's existence is obviously absurd. And if you admit that, then arguably there's so much evil in the world that, on that basis alone, a good God's existence is clearly absurd.

Here's the problem. If you remove the absurdity assumption - I've never seen him argue for this at all, only insisting that everyone believes this automatically - Law's argument doesn't just fail to get him to where he wants to go. It turns everything he does thereafter into, in essence, a rival theodicy.

Granted, it's a rival theodicy that doesn't really have a parallel with classical theism - but it's still a rival theodicy. And worse, it could be multipled easily: maybe God is mostly evil, but not completely. Or maybe God is mostly good, but not completely.

In other words, Law - minus a pretty ridiculous assumption his opponents don't need to grant - has been running around delivering apologetics for a rival God. Unintentionally, I'm sure, but I don't think he thought through his move.

Stephen Law said...

Hello all

Prof Fesser and many others just don't get it. Which is weird because even many Christians do it. Any way, here goes again:

I said "That's not my point at all. 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..."

Fesser: "I don't get this at all. Is there a typo here? If you grant even just for the sake of argument that an evil god is an impossibility, what's the point of going on to ask "But supposing it wasn't an impossibility..."?"

It's pretty simple. The philosopher Wes Morrison quite independently made the same point at the end of his paper "the evidential problem of god" which is on his website. Take a look if you still don't understand after reading this and my paper too, which also explains it pretty clearly.

So here goes. 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?

Rather than continue to post here, I'll do a whole post on my blog on the Fesser criticism soon as obviously a lot of Christians think it's great, when it's awful. But basically, if Edward doesn't get it the above point this time round, he should read Morriston. And if he still doesn't get it... well that's just weird.

Stephen Law said...

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' criticism assumes that is my view, it fails. That's it.

There may be problems with the evil god challenge but no significant ones have been raised here. They are all based on misunderstandings and misrepresentation.

Stephen Law said...

ps the wes morriston paper is the "evidential argument from goodness". sorry. It's here...

http://spot.colorado.edu/~morristo/selected-papers.html

Crude said...

"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?

But who is saying that an evil god is "ruled out on empirical grounds"? Who? Where?

This just speaks to the exact problem I pointed out with your argument. The absolute key is the assertion that everyone thinks that the existence of an evil god is absurd due to empirical considerations, and when the response to you is 'but we don't think an evil god is ruled out due to empirical considerations' your only response thus far has been to insist that no, just about everyone rules an evil god out this way and that the only reason anyone is saying otherwise is to avoid the awesome force of your argument. You can't seem to appreciate the idea that many people, possibly the majority, think that the empirical data, taken alone, leaves us unable to rule out an evil god or a good god.

Let me stress: your response to this has so far been to get worked up and insist that the only reason people say an evil god can't be ruled out based on the empirical data alone is because they're afraid of what the results of your argument would be otherwise. In other words, your response is psychoanalysis. That's an extremely weak position to be in. It's not flying here, nor is it flying much of anywhere else.

I don't think you can save this one.

Paul said...

Forgive me Dr Law, I really am trying to understand your argument, which may account for the fact that I am asking some very basic questions again. I'd be grateful if you could clarify.

You say that "even if it could be shown that an evil god is an impossibility (...), we might still ask, 'But supposing it wasn't an impossibility...'"

Why, if it could be shown that an evil God is an impossibility, would I then want to imagine that it wasn't an impossibility?

That suggests to me (and I am trying to take your words at face value) that I must first jettison a belief that is central to my understanding of God and of evil BEFORE I can run the EGC. Have I understood you correctly?

John said...

Notice my last comment about what Stephen is doing. Then notice he JUST did it again!

Stephen, surely you can't be this dense.

NOBODY IS SAYING YOU CAN RULE OUT AN EVIL GOD BY THE GOOD IN THE WORLD.

We're not just being "super-skeptical". That's just the way it is, given our epistemic position!

Stephen Law said...

Crude

"You can't seem to appreciate the idea that many people, possibly the majority, think that the empirical data, taken alone, leaves us unable to rule out an evil god or a good god."

Well that's not my experience and in fact very many religious people do agree that we can rule out the evil god on empirical grounds (and perhaps other grounds too).

I might also add that, if your implausible degree of skepticism were adopted, then we would not be in a position reasonably to conclude on the basis of observation that mice are not the thing that God values most. True, this may not seem like the kind of world a mice-valuing God would create (it’s not sufficiently mice-friendly or mice-centered). But, for all we know, God’s apparent utter disregard for the well-being of mice, and, indeed, apparent sadism towards them (cats etc.), is really no evidence at all that he doesn’t value mice above everything else.

Go over to my blog and you will see I set out a further absurd consequence of this sort of skepticism: It entails you have no good empirical grounds for denying the universe is only six thousand years old.

In short, in taking the line you do, you are taking a line even many Christians find intuitively dubious - a line that has patently absurd consequences. So the onus is surely on you to justify the skepticism. Can you? Craig couldn't

And in any case, even if you embrace skeptical theism to try to immunize your god belief against empirical refutation (a pretty desperate tactic), you STILL have failed entirely to deal with the evil God challenge - which is to explain why belief in an evil god is so very much more reasonable ten the absurd belief in an evil god (whatever the reasons it's deemed absurd).

In short, I don't think YOU can save this one. You have backed yourself into a ludicrous skeptical position in order to avoid coming face to face with the fact that what you believe is, actually, on the basis of the empirical evidence, downright absurd.

I'll now switch to comments on my blog only as I can keep track of all these other threads.

Stephen Law said...

John

As you and some others here are starting to get a bit abusive, I'm guessing I have touched a nerve.

Anyway, you say:

NOBODY IS SAYING YOU CAN RULE OUT AN EVIL GOD BY THE GOOD IN THE WORLD.

Plenty of people do say that. Of course, you may not. But see my preceding post.

Stephen Law said...

Paul

You ask:

"That suggests to me (and I am trying to take your words at face value) that I must first jettison a belief that is central to my understanding of God and of evil BEFORE I can run the EGC. Have I understood you correctly?"

No. Retain that belief. But consider whether you would rule out an evil creator (whether or not you call it a god) on empirical grounds, whether or not on other, a priori, conceptual grounds (such as Aquinas-style a priori arguments for a good god which conceptually exclude an evil god).

In the same way that Craig considers he can rule out an infinite universe on finite grounds (evidence for a big bang) despite the fact that he supposes he can also conclusively rule out an infinite universe a priori, conceptually.

Obviously, Craig doesn't have to abandon his belief that an infinite universe is conceptually ruled out before considering whether it's also ruled out empirically.

Hopefully you've got it now? And so has Edward Fesser...

I'm afraid this sinks Edward's claim that the evil god challenge "doesn't apply" to his sort of God. Though he might still find fault with it in other ways.

Stephen Law said...

sorry in last post I said

"out an infinite universe on finite grounds (evidence for a big bang)"

that should have read

"out an infinite universe on empirical grounds (evidence for a big bang)"

John said...

Stephen,

I apologize if I was abusive. I'll just wait for Mr. Feser to respond.

Stephen Law said...

Well I have used "ludicrous" so you're forgiven, John!

Crude said...

Well that's not my experience

Maybe that's your personal experience, but it certainly isn't mine. I've read quite a number of papers over the years by various theists - I have not seen, not once, a paper arguing that an evil God could be ruled out on purely empirical grounds, or that on purely empirical grounds we know that God is good.

then we would not be in a position reasonably to conclude on the basis of observation that mice are not the thing that God values most.

First: who, *on purely empirical grounds*, argues that it's clear that God does not value mice the most, or even that God values humans the most?

Second: you seem to think that being unable to rule out an evil god as absurd based entirely on empirical considerations alone makes us unable to rule out anything at all on empirical considerations alone. Where is your argument for this, rather than assertion?

Third: another possibility is this. No one evaluates these considerations from a purely empirical perspective. Everyone arrives at these discussions with some amount of intuitions (in fact, you appeal to intuitions heavily in this case) or even basic beliefs, and there's no guarantee that all these beliefs and intuitions will either be the same, or shared in the majority of cases. That's another problem with your view.

It entails you have no good empirical grounds for denying the universe is only six thousand years old.

See above for the problems with this kind of move.

In short, in taking the line you do, you are taking a line even many Christians find intuitively dubious - a line that has patently absurd consequences. So the onus is surely on you to justify the skepticism.

I would think the onus is on the one making the claim. Insofar as you are saying that the existence of an evil god is obviously absurd given the empirical data, that onus is on you. And I will note, this is a burden you have been entirely unwilling to shoulder other than to respond to anyone who refuses to accept the truth of your unargued-for claim with little more than psychoanalysis. Like I said, it's not working, and it's not going over well even with atheists. (They thought your evil god argument meant that, for all we know, god is evil. But you're not arguing that.)

And in any case, even if you embrace skeptical theism to try to immunize your god belief against empirical refutation (a pretty desperate tactic), you STILL have failed entirely to deal with the evil God challenge - which is to explain why belief in an evil god is so very much more reasonable ten the absurd belief in an evil god (whatever the reasons it's deemed absurd).

Simple: because purely empirical considerations aren't the only thing available to the theist. There are also metaphysical and philosophical arguments and demonstrations, as have been given in this thread, and which wash out the empirical considerations. It was argued that the metaphysical demonstrations show an "evil god" to be impossible, and for a good god to be not only possible but necessary. Your response to that was "yeah well okay, but pretend for a moment that's not true". That's not inspiring.

In short, I don't think YOU can save this one. You have backed yourself into a ludicrous skeptical position in order to avoid coming face to face with the fact that what you believe is, actually, on the basis of the empirical evidence, downright absurd.

There's that psychoanalysis again. It's all you have, and really Stephen, it's not very powerful. Most people do not find the existence of an evil god obviously absurd based on empirical considerations alone. In fact, historically, plenty of evil gods have been thought to exist, ranging from the pettier polytheistic gods, to the gnostics, to zoroastrianism to otherwise.

I can understand you retreating to the safety of your blog on this one, Stephen. At this point, walling up is all you can do.

Crude said...

Another question.

Stephen keeps insisting that quite a large number of people rule out the existence of an evil god based purely on empirical evidence.

I'd like to ask him for references to professional philosophical/theological papers claiming to show either A) that the empirical evidence (alone) proves the existence of a good God, or B) that the empirical evidence (alone) rules out the existence of an evil God. And let's be clear here: not merely empirical evidence for a good God or for an evil God, but a claim that the empirical evidence alone either conclusively establishes the good God or conclusively rules out the evil God.

Let's see how many he can come up with.

Stephen Law said...

Hi Crude

Jeez.

1. I'm obviously not talking about "professional philosophical/theological papers". Obviously. They almost never talk about an evil God. So you are simply changing the subject.

2. re. B. You are continuing to perpetuate the myth that my view is that philosophers conclude God is good on the basis of empirical investigation.

This looks more and more like a campaign of (deliberate?) misrepresentation by you. Less and less like an attempt to respond by actual argument. "Crude" is a good name. See? Now I'm not being so polite.

Crude said...

I'm obviously not talking about "professional philosophical/theological papers". Obviously. They almost never talk about an evil God. So you are simply changing the subject.

So, there's the response from Stephen Law: he can't, or won't, cite any papers arguing the absurdity of the existence of an evil god purely on empirical grounds. This is one of those beliefs that almost every theist - even theologians and philosophers - has, according to Stephen. But it just so happens to be one they never, or almost never, write papers about.

Keep in mind the considerably minor details philosophers and theologians are willing to write entire books on, and reflect on what this does to Law's claim about the empirical data alone rendering the existence of an evil god to be absurd.

2. re. B. You are continuing to perpetuate the myth that my view is that philosophers conclude God is good on the basis of empirical investigation.

No, I've asked for papers from professional philosophers and theologians claiming to show that the empirical evidence establishes (only) a good God. But again, I take you to mean that there are no papers showing THIS either.

Again: you maintain that a considerable number of theists, including philosophers and theologians, believe that the existence of an evil god is rendered absurd on empirical grounds alone. I ask for professional papers written by philosophers and theologians seeking to establish the absurdity of an evil god based on empirical evidence, and you come up empty-handed. I ask for such papers seeking to establish that the empirical evidence proves a good god, you get angry, make a crack about my handle, and admit you're not being so polite.

As you said to John, I do believe I've touched a nerve.

rad said...

Stephen,

"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?" "

How absurd is this: trying to argue for the non-existence of a contradiction in terms by experience? This is nonsense.

You are probably confusing moral goodness (which cannot be predicated of God. Its like talking about a "yellow concept".) with intrinsic goodness (which God has in the most degree. He is himself pure goodness or existence.).

Stephen Law said...

"No, I've asked for papers from professional philosophers and theologians claiming to show that the empirical evidence establishes (only) a good God. But again, I take you to mean that there are no papers showing THIS either."

er, I have to produce papers to support a view that I don't hold?!

Stephen Law said...

"How absurd is this: trying to argue for the non-existence of a contradiction in terms by experience? This is nonsense."

Like Craig does, quite reasonably, in fact. You should let him know it's all nonsense.

It's like you guys have put your fingers in your ears and are saying "No, sorry I can't hear you!"

Crude said...

er, I have to produce papers to support a view that I don't hold?!

I'm asking for papers that would indicate someone ELSE holds the view.

But as we saw, you admit these papers either don't exist or are extremely thin on the ground.

rad said...

Well, I dont speak for Craig. You surely must have noticed by now that there is a vast difference between the so called neo-theistic conception of God, which is very anthropomorphic, and the classical conception of God, which seems very remote to us humans.

I think you have only the modern conception of God in view. That is why you are thinking that you can speak of God in moral categories. But these do not apply to God as he is classicaly conceived. That is why your argument fails. The goodness of God is not moral goodness, it is intrinsic goodness, the goodness of his nature.

Stephen Law said...

"I'm asking for papers that would indicate someone ELSE holds the view."

You have misunderstood (again). I'm not claim anyone else concludes God is good based on empirical investigation. Obviously, Christians don't do that. THAT'S not my view.

So why do I need to cite papers to support that view? Weirder and weirder...

The bottom line is, you've got nowhere in meeting the evil god challenge. As I've repeatedly pointed out, even if I granted your highly implausible and unargued-for brand of skeptical theism is true, it STILL goes no way towards meeting the challenge, i.e. towards showing why belief in a good good is very significantly more reasonable than the absurd belief there's an evil god.

I see you are just choosing to ignore these points and raising irrelevant smokescreens instead.

I suppose you'll just continue to do so...

Crude said...

Stephen,

The bottom line is, you've got nowhere in meeting the evil god challenge. As I've repeatedly pointed out, even if I granted your highly implausible and unargued-for brand of skeptical theism is true,

What I have said is that, based on empirical considerations alone - no metaphysical proofs, stipulations, or arguments - we cannot declare the existence of an evil god absurd, and therefore your argument for the absurdity of a good god does not get off the ground. You also have not "pointed out" what follows, but asserted it in the face of evidence.

Nor have you argued for this (not regarding an evil god's existence as absurd) 'highly implausible' view, and - insofar as YOU say it's wrong - the onus is on YOU to support your view. Instead you keep making claims, then begging off any burden to support it, appealing to psychoanalysis.

it STILL goes no way towards meeting the challenge, i.e. towards showing why belief in a good good is very significantly more reasonable than the absurd belief there's an evil god.

Because I don't really care to show why belief in a good god is, *on empirical terms alone*, 'significantly more reasonable' than the (non-absurd, given that context) belief in an evil god. That's where the replies come in that rely on philosophical argument not based wholly on empirical evidence, metaphysical argument and demonstration, basic belief and otherwise.

I see you are just choosing to ignore these points and raising irrelevant smokescreens instead.

Asking you to support your claims about what theists and theistic philosophers/theologians believe is an 'irrelevant smokescreen'? Your unsupported assertions are now 'points'?

Here's one for you to chew on, Stephen: the existence of a non-good God or gods is more defensible than atheism. That's about the only contribution that can be taken away from your argument. ;)

Stephen Law said...

"That is why your argument fails. The goodness of God is not moral goodness, it is intrinsic goodness, the goodness of his nature."

The issue of moral goodness is irrelevant. God does not even need be a moral agent in order for the evidential problem of evil to be a problem. The question remains, why would a wholly good creative force (whether or not morally good - e.g. obviously he is not a free agent if what he does follows inexorably and necessarily from his nature, such that he cannot do otherwise) produce hundreds of millions of years of animals suffering, kill about a half of millions of children agonizingly before their fifth birthday before even making himself known to us, etc.

And why, incidentally, would such a being be worship-worthy?

But perhaps you will want to say, "Ah but 'good' as applied to god means something rather different. God's 'goodness' is in fact entirely compatible with, say, his torturing toddlers to death with red hot pokers for no justifying good reason." Right. Of course, it is. But notice in any case that the same can also be said about the evilness of evil god, notice ("Evil god's evilness is of a special sort compatible with him creating love laughter and rainbows for no justifying bad reason.")

Anyhow, I am as I said switching to here now...

http://stephenlaw.blogspot.com/2011/11/fessers-criticsm-of-evil-god-challenge.html

Stephen Law said...

I'm ignoring crude as he/she just endlessly repeats their misrepresentations of my view even after I've set the record straight many times.

Hopefully we'll get a better response from Edward. Well, I am sure we will....

rad said...

Stephen,

I have adressed your points at your own blog here:

http://stephenlaw.blogspot.com/2011/11/fessers-criticsm-of-evil-god-challenge.html

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

"These aren't the droids you're looking for."

Perhaps this has gone on long enough. Even so, I think it needs to be mentioned that 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." 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.

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, as Brandon noted in the previous go-around with Law's argument, 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."

Stephen Law said...

"Perhaps this has gone on long enough. Even so, I think it needs to be mentioned that 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."

It is, indeed, like you guys have your fingers in your ears!

Bye...!

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

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

In any case, the point is that there can't be evidence that points to "an evil almighty creator God"; there can only be evidence of no God at all. Law's argument, though he is presumably no longer around to hear this, amounts to saying, "We can deduce from the speed of this object that it's either moving or immobile."

Buckeye said...

Stephen, you have got to be kidding me with this.

If you think the tone over here is bad with the commentators what do you think of your own combox comments?
"Fingers in their ears" as if people really aren't engaging your argument? Come on. The majority of the commentators over here are much more willing to charitably engage with your position than people over at your blog would be willing to do with Feser (in a charitable manner of course.... which is your gripe over here).


This is upsetting to see you act this way.

John said...

Mr. Law,

I think we've already given you good reasons why theists believe God is good.

In any case, Craig also gave you an answer. From his moral argument; if God can be the only ground for objective morality (since I don't see how it can be grounded on anything else), then our moral obligations necessarily have to be grounded on a good God.

also

The resurrection gives us good grounds for believing God is good. If Jesus did in fact resurrect, then that somewhat validates the character of the God he was revealing.

also

The evil being a privation of good argument of Mr. Feser.

So, it isn't clear to me why you keep saying no reasons were given to believe in a good God rather than an evil one.

Untenured said...

@Crude:

I had a friend in the English department. He used to always tell me that there were no objective truths, just "asymmetries of power" or some cognate bit of nonsense. When I asked whether the proposition "There are no objective truths" is objectively true, he could never quite answer the question. And yet, he insisted that there was something I just didn't understand.

Reading this exchange, it is like deja vu all over again.

Stephen Law is committing a very basic mistake and refuses to acknowledge it. He is treating metaphysical demonstrations as if they were empirically defeasible arguments which could be overturned by empirical evidence even after they have been certified as sound. I am sorry, but this is flat out confused.

If I have a sound argument which establishes that some proposition is true with the force of metaphysical necessity, then no empirical evidence can show otherwise. I don't have to weigh the evidence provided by my sound argument against any amount of potentially disconfirming empirical evidence. Indeed, If the argument is sound, then necessarily its conclusion is true and there is no such thing as even potentially disconfirming empirical evidence.

Thus, once I have constructed a sound argument that Fermat's theorem is true, or that the primes are infinite in number, or that God is
pure act, no amount of empirical evidence is going to overturn these propositions.

Thus, it is not as if someone could come along and say "Ah! Yes, Godel may indeed have a sound argument that any formal system with the expressive power of arithmetic cannot be both complete and consistent, but might some empirical discovery show that he was wrong after all?" Nobody would take that question seriously even for a second, and yet Law is asking us to do something analogous with his "Evil God" challenge.

Now, Law might decide to retrench with some kind of Quinean view and argue that all propositions are revisable in light of empirical evidence. I don't think that dog can hunt, but it would be a reasonable move to make here.

What is not reasonable is for him to keep insisting that we have misunderstood him, or that we have to take the EGC seriously even if there are sound metaphysical arguments for a being that is pure act. If he really can't see this, he is the one who is confused.

Anonymous said...

Suppose we bracket the necessity of God being good for a moment. Then it is possible to say that, if someone finds an evil god absurd on the basis of the evidence of the world, then they will also find a good God absurd. But absurd here can only mean 'implausible', not impossible, as the argument is evidential. But now let's unbracket the necessity of God being good. Ed thinks that God's existence is shown by Aquinas' natural theological arguments (the five ways). Moreover, the sort of god shown to exist by those arguments is necessarily good, due, presumably, to the Thomistic considerations that Ed is eager to claim that Stephen has overlooked. But if that is so, then, given that the natural theological arguments and Thomistic considerations are deductively secured, what we need to do is compare the evidential premises of the evidential argument from evil and the five ways, and assess their relative plausibility. Given that the five ways form a cumulative case, targeting different facts about the world, and given the obviousness of these facts (change occurs, something is in motion), it seems that Stephen needs to argue against Aquinas' natural theology if he is going to persuade Ed of his conclusions.

rad said...

Untenured,

I dont think that there even have to be sound arguments for the God of classical theism for Laws argument to fail. The classical definition of God, the doctrine of the transcedantals and the privation doctrine of evil are enough to make Laws arguments fail against classical theism. It seems that he does not get the radical asymmetry between God and his evil god which is, as I have said now many times, a contradiction in terms.

rad said...

Clarification: I did not mean to say, that there arent any good arguments. I just mean that Laws argument fails even without them.

Untenured said...

@rad:

Maybe. But Law himself says:

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..."

That is like saying "Yes, you have a sound argument that the primes are infinite. But suppose it isn't sound, we might still ask whether our experience makes it more reasonable to believe in an infinite number of primes than a finite number...."

Like Ed, I thought this might have been a typo, because the underlying point is so manifestly confused. But it isn't, because he keeps doubling-down on it. He really seems to think that a sound metaphysical demonstration could be defeated by empirical evidence.

That is just a basic failure to understand the kinds of arguments that the Classical Theist is deploying.

Trust me: This one is over. At this point Law is like Monty Python's black knight, de-limbed and squirting blood everywhere while insisting it 'tis but a flesh wound.

rad said...

@Untenured

"That is like saying "Yes, you have a sound argument that the primes are infinite. But suppose it isn't sound, we might still ask whether our experience makes it more reasonable to believe in an infinite number of primes than a finite number....""

Yes, I know! I tried to press this point with him.

What I meant in my above remark was that the definition of God, the private doctrine of evil, and the doctrine of the transcedentals just show that an evil god is a contradiction. This follows even if we have no arguments for God.

rad said...

Correction: privation doctrine of evil

rad said...

And I think that a Manichaean would happily accept Laws premesis to the point where he rules out the existence of an evil god on empirical grounds. He would just say: No, we are only justified in concluding that there are two gods, a good god and an evil god.

funnyatheists said...

There isn't any particular definition of "good" and "evil" in Law's original article and there is no evidence that he has any understanding of the classical theistic notion or position on good and evil.

One has to wonder how he is going to empirically approach either of his hypotheses without a clear definition of good and evil.

He should try harder to actually make the "challenge" relevant to classical theism.

Crude said...

Untenured,

Stephen Law is committing a very basic mistake and refuses to acknowledge it. He is treating metaphysical demonstrations as if they were empirically defeasible arguments which could be overturned by empirical evidence even after they have been certified as sound. I am sorry, but this is flat out confused.

I agree. He also seems to be treating the empirical evidence as something which everyone is going to evaluate equally, regardless of what metaphysical commitments, basic beliefs or anything else they bring to the table. But what really bothers me about his argument here is that, to even have the prospect of doing any work, it requires the assumption that an evil god is rendered absurd based on the empirical evidence alone. And when someone denies that, he starts in with tremendous psychoanalysis and zero argument. It really doesn't speak well of his argument.

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