A philosopher at the NYT writes about the incoherence of most people’s theism

It’s surprising that the New York Times would publish an atheistic op-ed showing that most people’s notion of God is incoherent, but the piece below (click on the screenshot), is actually Unsophisticated Atheism in at least part of its argument. And the parts that aren’t weird are old and familiar arguments.

Well, perhaps believers need to hear arguments about God that have been repeated to previous generations, explaining why Atterton, a professor of philosophy at San Diego State University, attacks the claim that God can be omnipotent. He first trots out the old bromide “Can God make a stone so big He can’t lift it?” and then asks, “Can God create a world in which evil does not exist?” The first question is barely worth arguing, but the second is. And, as has been pointed out many times before, the existence of moral evil in the world, while explained by theologians as necessary for the action of free will (NOTE: it’s libertarian, you-can-do-otherwise free will this argument uses), does not explain the existence of physical evils like the suffering of animals, the diseases like leukemia that kill children, tsunamis that sweep away the innocent, and so on. As I’ve said before, the existence of physical evil is the Achilles Heel of Abrahamic religion and the death knell for the idea of an omnibenevolent God. Only through tortuous and unconvincing logic can you explain why God allows little kids to get leukemia.

And there’s no reason God couldn’t have created a world in which people can choose freely, but always choose to do the right and moral thing. Free will and The Best of All Possible Worlds are not logically inconsistent.

But here’s the bit that gets me: God couldn’t be omniscient because if he were, he’d be touched with evil. Or so Atterton maintains:

. . . if God knows all there is to know, then He knows at least as much as we know. But if He knows what we know, then this would appear to detract from His perfection. Why?

There are some things that we know that, if they were also known to God, would automatically make Him a sinner, which of course is in contradiction with the concept of God. As the late American philosopher Michael Martin has already pointed out, if God knows all that is knowable, then God must know things that we do, like lust and envy. But one cannot know lust and envy unless one has experienced them. But to have had feelings of lust and envy is to have sinned, in which case God cannot be morally perfect.

What about malice? Could God know what malice is like and still retain His divine goodness? The 19-century German pessimist Arthur Schopenhauer was perhaps the first philosopher to draw attention to what he called the “diabolical” in his work “On Human Nature”

. . . It might be argued, of course, that this is precisely what distinguishes humans from God. Human beings are inherently sinful whereas God is morally perfect. But if God knows everything, then God must know at least as much as human beings do. And if human beings know what it is like to want to inflict pain on others for pleasure’s sake, without any other benefit, then so does God. But to say that God knows what it is like to want to inflict pain on others is to say that God is capable of malicious enjoyment.

However, this cannot be true if it really is the case that God is morally perfect. A morally perfect being would never get enjoyment from causing pain to others. Therefore, God doesn’t know what it is like to be human. In that case He doesn’t know what we know. But if God doesn’t know what we know, God is not all knowing, and the concept of God is contradictory. God cannot be both omniscient and morally perfect. Hence, God could not exist.

I don’t really get this. You can understand what it’s like to sin without being a sinner yourself; all you have to do, if you’re God, is say, “Okay, let me be imbued with the feeling that somebody gets when he kicks a dog.” That doesn’t make God a dog-kicker, someone who enjoys kicking dogs, or in any way sinful—at least in my view. If God were omniscient, he’d know what it would feel like to sin without having sinned himself.

Now there’s another issue not discussed: if God knows everything, then he knows how we’re going to decide to act. Doesn’t that obviate the libertarian free will beloved of religionists? You might say that it doesn’t, but if libertarian free will means anything in a theistic world, it has to be a choice that is made without the knowledge of God. Otherwise the concept of eternal reward and punishment have no meaning, and we’d be a bunch of Calvinists whose fate is already known to God.

But I don’t believe in either God or free will, so I leave this vexing questions to the theologians.

74 Comments

  1. Austin Johnson
    Posted April 8, 2019 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Some apologists will argue that God knowing the future isn’t in conflict with free will because knowing isn’t causal. Simply knowing our actions doesn’t cause us to choose them, therefore there can be free will and an all-knowing God. However, it falls flat once they acknowledge that God set the world in motion, meaning that not only does he know the outcome, he is responsible for it, ergo no free will after all.

  2. Posted April 8, 2019 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    Atterton’s convoluted philosophizing presents a robust challenge to theism in the same way the Washington Generals were dangerous opponents of the Harlem Globetrotters.

  3. darrelle
    Posted April 8, 2019 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps Atterton is using “know” in the Biblical sense rather than the more mundane sense of understand.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 8, 2019 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      tee hee.

  4. Mark Perew
    Posted April 8, 2019 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    sub

  5. Posted April 8, 2019 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    “There are some things that we know that, if they were also known to God, would automatically make Him a sinner”

    Such a silly argument! If that were true, then everyone who hears and understands most sermons would also be sinners.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 8, 2019 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      You know that he knows that you know that God knows.

      • rickflick
        Posted April 8, 2019 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

        And then there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

    • Posted April 8, 2019 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

      Like Jimmy Carter, God lusts in His heart.

      • rickflick
        Posted April 8, 2019 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

        Isn’t it an odd experience to see Carter chastised for lusting in his heart, Obama taking a lot of heat for wearing a brown suit, while DT acts and talks like a bar room thug with no known consequences. Oh, I wandered off topic. Never mind.

        • W.T. Effingham
          Posted April 8, 2019 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

          You’re not off topic.The Lawd is omniscient, and doing His work through the Duh-Nald tRump(revolving door) Administration.Barr-room thugs notwithstanding,haven’t you seen what Cheeto-Benito can do with his bare hands and a folding chair?

      • Posted April 9, 2019 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

        That’s a safer place for lust than others.

        /@

  6. Caldwell
    Posted April 8, 2019 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    God a dog-kicker

    That answers the dyslexic who wondered if there really is a dog.

    Here is some really ludicrous theologizing: Buttigieg to Pence: ‘If you got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me — your quarrel, sir, is with my creator’

    …and a problem with the creator or mass murderers, etc.

    • Caldwell
      Posted April 8, 2019 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      OF mass murderers

  7. mfdempsey1946
    Posted April 8, 2019 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Science determines that free will (the you-could-have-done-otherwise-at-any-given-moment kind) cannot exist because of the laws of physics and other factors that control human “decisions.”

    Religion (Catholicism, at any rate) reaches the same conclusion because of All-Knowing God — the God I and millions of others were taught to believe in during our youths, just as millions more have been and are still being taught this belief.

    If “All-Knowing” has any meaning, it does indeed mean that God knows everything there is to know about all human beings, and has known it “forever”.

    Which means that each of us is an actor in a personal “movie”, with no deviations from the pre-ordained script allowed.

    In other words, Catholicism reaches the same conclusion as science: free will cannot exist.

    Science responds by saying, “OK, free will does not exist. Deal with it.”

    Yet Catholicism responds by saying, “Free will does too exist.”

    • alexander
      Posted April 8, 2019 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

      “Yet Catholicism responds by saying, “Free will does too exist.””

      They do? This means that “sin” doesn’t exist either.

      • alexander
        Posted April 8, 2019 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

        Sorry for this non sequitur. I misread the Catholic response as “Free will doesn’t exist.”
        .

    • rickflick
      Posted April 8, 2019 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

      I’m sure they feel they need free will as a trowel to slather on the guilt and get the level of strict obedience they seek. The fact that there exists a logical contradiction in all this is ignored…for reasons.

  8. Roger
    Posted April 8, 2019 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Is it even possible to know the future? Assumming God(s) know everything, they could only know everything that’s possible to know. Assuming it’s possible to know the future, they would know it. Way too much assuming going on haha.

  9. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted April 8, 2019 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    Sub

  10. Posted April 8, 2019 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    Every paragraph from Atterton is assailable.
    But for fun I can take his argument and make it a bit better. For god to be omniscient he would know what it is like to be a sinner, sure, but he would also know what it is like to be a sinnee. He knows all about dog kickers, but also he knows what it is like to be a dog who got kicked.
    His arguments are still bad. But so is mine.

    • rickflick
      Posted April 8, 2019 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

      Wasn’t that the purpose of Christ? Apparently God didn’t know how to suffer properly, or something. So he sent his only begotten son Jesus to do it for him. Later, maybe, he asked Jesus, “What’s it like?”, and Jesus answered, and then he knew.

      • David Evans
        Posted April 8, 2019 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

        That rubs up against a very common theological view that God is changeless. If he knows anything now he must always have known it.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted April 8, 2019 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

          Yeah, it’s why I don’t buy god’s piss poor excuse that he felt bad about the whole flood thing and would never do that again. If he gets all pissed off why did he change is mind? I thought he’s supposed to always be the same.

          • rickflick
            Posted April 8, 2019 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

            Maybe he’s supposed to be maximally hissy?

  11. CAS
    Posted April 8, 2019 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    Ah! Another philosopher supports the view that much of philosophy is useless.

  12. Ken Kukec
    Posted April 8, 2019 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    Shorter Atterton: They’re counting the angels on the pinhead RONG.

  13. Laurance
    Posted April 8, 2019 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Over and over I hear people dismiss the old testament and its hateful god, “We have a New Testament now! The New Testament is a God of Love! Forget the nasty god of the old testament!”

    I find the god of the new testament even worse. The old testament god is someone’s abusive father who has some feelings of love while abusing the living sh*t out of you. But at some point you get to finally die, at least as far as I know. I’ve read part of the old testament but not finished it.

    The new testament “god of love” insists on the horrific torture death of a poor carpenter turned itinerant street preacher. Human blood sacrifice! What kind of deity is that?? The old testament deity is an abusive human, disgusting but understandable. Alpha male primate. The new testament monster has you suffering unbearably for ever and ever because you didn’t believe and kowtow.

    The new testament god is an absolute moral monster! As far as I am concerned, natural disasters happen, they just happen. But when one believes that all these things are created by god, a hurricane destroying a town, a tsunami killing thousands of innocent people, that makes these things *intentional*. That makes these things happen because of the will of some supernatural entity who did it on purpose.

    Monstrous religion!! And people pray to the deity who just sent the earthquake which killed their neighbors. Thank you, god, for sparing and saving us, never mind the people over there who are weeping because their children were killed…

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted April 8, 2019 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

      “a hurricane destroying a town, a tsunami killing thousands of innocent people, that makes these things *intentional*.” Of course it is intentional, those sodomites are an abomination, they need punishment!

    • another fred
      Posted April 8, 2019 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

      Consider that both “Gods” (new and old) are simply the result of people observing the nature of the world and trying to make sense of it. In that sense the conception of “God” as a Refiner’s Fire or Winnower is wholly rational. I have a working familiarity with both and I assure you that neither has the aspect of “sheep and goats” that humans desire.

      “Monstrous”? The world is monstrous.

      “The world’s God is treacherous and full of
      unreason; a torturer, but also
      The only foundation and the only fountain.
      Who fights him eats his own flesh and perishes
      of hunger; ”

      Robinson Jeffers: Birth Dues

  14. Diana MacPherson
    Posted April 8, 2019 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    Good grief, what a Gordian knot.

  15. A C Harper
    Posted April 8, 2019 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    One of my bullshit trigger words is “know” (or knowledge or knowing or my anti-favourite “ways of knowing” etc.). “Know” in English has several different meanings and I have found that many theological or philosophical arguments pretend to coherence by switching between different meaning of “know” in the same sentence.

    I understand that German uses Wissen (to be familiar with, acquainted) or Kennen (factual knowledge) which avoids some of the pitfalls of using a single word with different meanings in English. I don’t know(!) how other languages handles the issue.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted April 8, 2019 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      I gather from the Bible that to ‘know’ basically means having sex.

    • alexander
      Posted April 8, 2019 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      It is the other way around. Wissen is factual knowledge, as in Wissenschaft (science). Kennen can also be “knowing,” but it is more used as “being acquanted” “Ich kenne diese Leute” means “I know these people,” in the sense of being acquanted.

      • stuartcoyle
        Posted April 8, 2019 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

        Ken is still a perfectly good (Saxon) English word, or am I two centuries too late? I do not ken if a version of the word wissen came over too.

        • alexander
          Posted April 8, 2019 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

          Yes, I think it might have been used that way. The term “kennen” also exists in Dutch, with the first meaning of knowing, we also have the word “kennis” for a person we know well, it can also mean knowledge; in German it is then Kenntnis.

          Dutch, or better the West-Flemish dialect is quite close to what was spoken in medieval England, we understand Chaucer quite well.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted April 8, 2019 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

            In French it’s savoir and connaître.

        • Steve Gerrard
          Posted April 8, 2019 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

          The wise man says one did.

        • bewilderbeast
          Posted April 9, 2019 at 12:11 am | Permalink

          wise? from wissen

  16. Adam M.
    Posted April 8, 2019 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Free will as an explanation for evil doesn’t hold water. If free will inevitably leads people to sin, then either God would take away the free will of people in heaven, or heaven would have sin. The latter isn’t supposed to happen, and the former seems to dampen the argument that free will is so important that God thought it was worth giving even though most of us, his beloved creation, would be damned because of it. And what would we be in heaven, then? Slaves? Robots?

    • Jeff Lewis
      Posted April 9, 2019 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      That’s my typical reply to the free will reply to evil. I mean, that could hold for theists who don’t believe in a heaven, but that’s certainly not Christians.

  17. Mark R.
    Posted April 8, 2019 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    The word “convoluted” comes to mind.

    Though at least the NYT is publishing an op-ed against theism for a change. Though it might not help when the arguments are familiar or plain silly.

  18. Roo
    Posted April 8, 2019 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    I don’t really get this. You can understand what it’s like to sin without being a sinner yourself; all you have to do, if you’re God, is say, “Okay, let me be imbued with the feeling that somebody gets when he kicks a dog.” That doesn’t make God a dog-kicker, someone who enjoys kicking dogs, or in any way sinful—at least in my view. If God were omniscient, he’d know what it would feel like to sin without having sinned himself.

    I think it may be a semantic issue of whether you use ‘know’ or ‘wanted’. If you say “God knows what (think of a criminal committing the worst crime you can think of) feels”, that sounds different than “God wanted to (think of the worst crime you can think of.)”

    To fully know how a criminal feels, at an experiential level, you would have to want what they want. So I think they’re saying, if God didn’t know that story fully – not a version wherein he’s like “Yeah, I can feel this for a second with the full knowledge that I’m God and will turn this emotion off a moment later”, but a version where he fully knew the experience of a criminal complete with all the delusion, hatred, lack of seeing themselves as anything better, etc. that a criminal felt, then he would actually be devoid of that knowledge in some sense. And if he did feel it, that would be troubling in its own way.

    I feel like eastern spirituality accounts for this a bit more, albeit in vague terms, with the idea that what Abrahamic religions would call ‘sin’ is more like ‘delusion’, and that full enlightenment means sort of simultaneously seeing the relative world for what it is while experiencing ultimate reality that allows for much greater wisdom about it. The idea of non-attachment means, to my mind, semantically shifting to the word ‘knowing’ vs. ‘wanting’ in pretty much every single case.

  19. Posted April 8, 2019 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    Nothing is true of a non existent god except that it is non existent, we may as well quibble over whether this non existent being is left or right handed. What we do have is reams of stuff on something that does not exist and who, what and where does it come from is more the point.

  20. Steve Gerrard
    Posted April 8, 2019 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    This is mostly about the Christian god, isn’t it? The Greek and Roman gods, for instance, were not portrayed as omnipotent and omniscient. Their short-comings were what made them interesting.

    The development of a super-god kind of took the fun out of it, I think. Let alone that it is also an incoherent concept.

  21. another fred
    Posted April 8, 2019 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    These arguments are silly. Evil exists because the world is free. If the world were not free “God” would be a Tyrant and we would justly hate Him.

    Take your pick, freedom or tyranny.

    • another fred
      Posted April 8, 2019 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

      Edit: Put “Evil” in mockery quotes.

    • Vaal
      Posted April 9, 2019 at 9:09 am | Permalink

      False dichotomy.

      God could have created a world with nobler creatures than human beings whose nature it was to choose The Good. Just like God.
      Hence, in creating human beings as he did, God created gratuitous evil.

      • Posted April 9, 2019 at 9:22 am | Permalink

        Not really. Who, other than your imagined nobler creatures would be around to judge their nobility? They would probably still question their own nobility just as we do. 😉

    • Jeff Lewis
      Posted April 9, 2019 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      See Adam M.’s comment up above. Do you think there’s evil in Heaven? Or do you think there’s no free will in Heaven?

  22. max blancke
    Posted April 8, 2019 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    Religion is not science. They do not serve the same purpose, and are not meant to be constructed by the same methods.

    Some people can maintain a moral code and a sense of purpose without religion.
    For others, religion provides them a moral framework to work within.

    I was out on the range yesterday (as in “home on the…), and I was thinking about whether the surge of narcissistic behavior that has come to prominence lately is related to a loss of religious faith. I think it was easier for my Grandparents to keep doing what had to be done when they were able to comfort themselves with the possibility of some reward in the hereafter, or possibly a do-over.
    People who see themselves as a momentary spark in an endless night seem more likely to feel that they have to be a superhero and a mommy, and an astronaut, and a poet, and chairman of the board. And of course that they are the shiny center of the world. Those sorts of attitudes seem unlikely to produce humble people willing to make sacrifices for the greater good.

    I am not personally susceptible to religious beliefs, so I am not really advocating them. Except for the possibility that they serve a purpose in keeping a civil society intact. If we are to get rid of them, we should replace them with something else that fulfills the same purpose.

    Once again, these are just the musings of a cowboy in the mountains, with too much time to think.

    • rickflick
      Posted April 8, 2019 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

      Well, yes, I think for some, religion is a psychological support. A bit like having a personal coach or counselor. Especially people who find themselves out in the cold, so to speak. Lonely or operating without good impulse control. But, while religion may perform some of this service, it does it at an enormous cost. It requires that society pay the price of an irrational force when we can all agree that more rationality is the way to shape society. Little white lies to help in time of stress seem harmless, but when lies become institutionalized the mindset pervades much of our political decision-making. The cost of that is all around us.
      I like the idea of a substitute from religion. It would probably begin by a stronger economic safety net so that people are not dependent on an invisible fairy to save them from duress.

    • Roo
      Posted April 8, 2019 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

      I think a jump in narcissism is probably inevitable when you think of how much less communal our lives are these days. (Image one’s direct dependence on one’s neighbors 100, 500, 2,000, 10,000 years ago as opposed to now, in all sorts of ways – food, medical care, protection, etc.) It is probably offset, however, by a decrease in the varying degrees of mob justice and brutality that, if history is any example, appear necessary to make truly communal or tribal life work (Tribal here meaning a direct, person-to-person community not organized or supported by any larger, impersonal infrastructure. For example, you can have socialist medicine but that does not mean that in order to be admitted to the ER you must personally have a good relationship with a doctor working there.)

      Whether that’s a net gain or loss is hard to say, but it’s probably worth noting that no matter how poetic people wax about “the good old days”, when given the choice, people self-select towards individual preferences (and some corresponding degree of isolation,) pretty consistently. Given the choice between the warm glow of companionship or the warm glow of autonomy (choosing our own entertainment, making our own life choices, having our own possessions, etc.) people seem to reliably trend towards the latter. And some of the things we do today – allowing women to marry partners regardless of parental input, for example – would likely have been considered the height of narcissism and self-centeredness just a few generations ago.

    • Posted April 10, 2019 at 2:24 am | Permalink

      Perhaps we should keep working toward a society where, “replace them with something else that fulfils the same purpose,” isn’t necessary.
      Ah, to sleep. To dream! 😦 😯

  23. Jackson
    Posted April 8, 2019 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    What a waste of space and opportunity on the NYT opinion page.

  24. Hrafn
    Posted April 8, 2019 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    I think the problem with the “if they were also known to God, would automatically make Him a sinner” is the fallacy of Equivocation. When we talk about ‘knowing lust’, we are using ‘know’ as a synonym for ‘experience’. That God knows (in the sense of has knowledge or understanding of) everything does not mean that he experiences everything. You can understand something without experiencing it yourself.

    • Roo
      Posted April 9, 2019 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      I actually don’t agree with this, but it’s an interesting question, as posed in the “Mary’s Room” thought experiment.

  25. FB
    Posted April 8, 2019 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    “And there’s no reason God couldn’t have created a world in which people can choose freely, but always choose to do the right and moral thing. Free will and The Best of All Possible Worlds are not logically inconsistent.”

    I think there’s one plausible reason: if the antinatalists are right, and the right and moral thing to do is not to have children, a world with people and free will wouldn’t be possible, and the best possible world wouldn’t have free will.

  26. bewilderbeast
    Posted April 9, 2019 at 12:14 am | Permalink

    and the one thing we CANNOT have is the all-knowing all-powerful chap just stepping in and clearing up the conundrums, right?
    What was that about the invisible and the non-existent looking identical?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 9, 2019 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

      Science – putting the machina in the deus ex.

  27. Wunold
    Posted April 9, 2019 at 12:39 am | Permalink

    I had another problem with the part about God as a sinner. As I understand it, in most religions a sin is a transgression against divine law or otherwise “any thought or action that endangers the ideal relationship between an individual and God.” (Wikipedia)

    Since most theistic religions define the divine laws as creates by the gods for the humans, the gods could happily commit acts that would be considered sins for humans.

    It’s like parents or aristocrats make rules for their children or the common folk that they don’t have to follow themselves. Fittingly, believers often see their gods as some form of uber-parents, while non-believers like myself tend to see them more like aristocrats or dictators.

    • Wunold
      Posted April 9, 2019 at 12:43 am | Permalink

      Corrections:

      “as created by the gods”

      “parents or aristocrats who make rules for their children”

      It’s still early in the morning where I live, my apologies.

  28. Posted April 9, 2019 at 5:34 am | Permalink

    I don’t get the dissing. At worst, it’s a red herring that distracts from a really great debunking of God, but at best, it gets some folks thinking and doubting.

    Jerry Wrote: I don’t really get this. You can understand what it’s like to sin without being a sinner yourself;

    It’s a good point, I think. Do you really know how it is to be mentally disabled, suffer from schizophrenia etcetera?

    It points towards the difference between first-hand experience, and second-hand knowledge, where God collides with all things human.

    The larger argument there is that God created “man” in his image, but that idea rests on a naïve interpretation of reality. Since language philosophy and cognitive science came along a few decades ago, this idea of “truly objective” as in God’s View on Reality has been replaced by embodied cognition. That means, God must somehow instantiate himself, to know (experience) something, things as basic as “how if feels to move your eyeballs around” all the way to how it is to be disabled in all the specific ways and so on.

    In the end it’s all distraction, because we know already that God is an idea, with a specific tradition that can be traced to its origins. That is the Achilles Heel; A man-made idea that has been debunked conclusively already by science. Humans evolved. There are no souls. Earth isn’t the centre of the universe, and the list goes on.

    It’s an infantile idea that at this point is only possible through illiteracy, ignorance and compartmentalising.

  29. Vaal
    Posted April 9, 2019 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    Jerry wrote:

    “And there’s no reason God couldn’t have created a world in which people can choose freely, but always choose to do the right and moral thing. Free will and The Best of All Possible Worlds are not logically inconsistent.”

    Exactly. Christians keep this “Free Will Card” in their back pocket as an excuse for everything, but don’t seem to notice their own set of beliefs undermine the free will defense.

    Most Christians/theologians accept that a Good Being would not knowingly create gratuitous suffering/free will. (Which is why theodicies and apologetics are always trying to find an argument making suffering/evil to be necessary).

    But most Christians also accept these propositions:

    1. God can do anything logically possible (e.g. create anything logically possible).

    2. God has Free Will.

    3. God only ever chooses The Good.

    Right there, the free will defense is done for.

    It shows that, on the propositions Christians themselves accept, only choosing to do good is not logically incompatible with having Free Will. So free willed beings who only choose to do good are logically possible beings, hence God could have created beings who have free will but who only choose to do good.

    Therefore, by not creating such beings, and instead creating human beings who have some level of proclivity to choose evil and cause suffering, God would have knowingly created gratuitous evil/suffering and can not be “good.”

    It’s interesting to burrow down with Christians in to some of the details. When you ask “Why won’t God choose to do evil things – e.g. why can we now God wouldn’t choose to torture a baby for fun?” The inevitable answer is “Because that is not God’s nature – God’s nature is to be Perfectly Good.”

    That is to say: we can know that God wouldn’t choose to torture babies because God has a nature that determines God’s choices.

    Which means in the case of God, Christians must accept that having a determinate nature is *compatible* with having free will.

    This shines a spotlight on the usual Christian inconstancy and special-pleading. When it comes to human-born evil, Christians arguing that the nature of free will must be libertarian, contra-causal, non-deterministic.

    Where they turn around and become COMPATIBILISTS about free will for God.

    They can’t have it both ways. (Though as we know, that is always the goal).

    There are some fewer Christians who bite the bullet and admit God doesn’t have free will. But then that also defeats the Free Will defense. The free will defense holds that freely willed choices are of such high value that they warrant allowing all the evil and suffering that can result. But if God is the paradigm of value, and the paradigm of value does not contain free will, then free will can’t be a necessary value justifying the creation of evil and suffering.

  30. Posted April 9, 2019 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    On “logically possible” – this requires “semantic ascent” to even make sense – pedantically, logically possible has domain propositions or the like. Worse, however – this is relative to a logic. What logic?

    On knowing sin: this is actually very important, and the topic was in fact debated by Islamic theologians, in a way. This is because of the distinction between what we now call “know how and know that”. Sort of what someone else alluded to with the Mary thought experiment. The neuroscience of the Mary TE shows that on a perfectly materialistic understanding the distinction between these sorts of knowledge exists. Consquently – does it apply to god? Does it have knowledge *how* it is to be a sinner? Or just *what* or *that* something is sin? Christians have no problem with the latter, obviously. But the former is more problematic. Note that this was, from what I understand, alluded to in _The Last Temptation of Christ_. (I have not seen the movie, but given what I’ve heard …)


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