bookmark_borderMust-Read Paper on the Confusing Terminology in the Philosophy of Religion

Philosopher Dale Tuggy has written an incredibly helpful paper which seeks to help clarify some of the confusing terminology in the philosophy of religion regarding God vs. gods. Key terms defined in this paper include deity, godhood, ultimate, the Ultimate. So far as I can tell, his modest proposal for terminology does not appear to beg the question in favor of western monotheism vs. other religious beliefs such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Hellenistic polytheism (think: Zeus and the ancient Greek pantheon), Jainism, and so forth.
Of special interest to readers of this blog is how atheism and naturalism fits into his proposed schema. Using his definitions for ultimate, god, and deity, the following terms are of interest:

  • naturalistic adeism: This is the view that (i) there is nothing with supernatural powers and so no deity; (ii) no god; and (iii) no Ultimate.
  • adeistic ultimism: This is the view that (i) there are no deities; (ii) there is no god; and (iii) there is an Ultimate.
  • monodeistic ultimism: This is the view that (i) there is exactly one deity; (ii) there is no god; and (iii) there is an Ultimate.
  • polydeistic, non-ultimistic atheism: This is the view that (i) there are many deities; (ii) there is no god; and (iii) there is no Ultimate.

It would be an interesting exercise to apply Tuggy’s proposed terminology to analyze the famous quotation attributed to Stephen Roberts:

“I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

For example, based on Tuggy’s distinction between a deity and a god, one could interpret Roberts in a variety of ways. One option would be to interpret it as a statement about belief in deities. In that case, the statement becomes:

“I contend we are both adeists, I just believe in one fewer deity than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible deities, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

I am not certain, but I think this is a faithful “translation” of Roberts’ quotation using Tuggy’s terminology. I’ve seen countless atheists use the Robert’s quotation (or something like it) to compare a dismissal of Yahweh or Allah with a dismissal of Zeus, Thor, Quetzcoatl, etc. Now, as Tuggy points out, on his terminology, godhood implies deity, but deity does not presuppose godhood. For example, Yahweh is a god (and so also a deity), whereas Zeus is a deity but not a god. This is because, on Tuggy’s view, godhood implies ultimacy; Yahweh and Allah are ultimate whereas Zeus, Thor, et al are not.
The upshot of Tuggy’s deity vs god distinction is that it helps clarify Roberts’ “one fewer god” argument. As an argument for dismissing non-god deities, it it looks promising. As an argument for dismissing “gods” (as defined by Tuggy), it looks dubious. The arguments for the existence of ‘mere’ deities would seem to have little, if anything, in common with the arguments for the existence of a god (in Tuggy’s sense of “god”). Or so it seems to me. This is just my kneejerk reaction: please share your thoughts in the comments section on whether Tuggy’s terminology is helpful, if you actually read Tuggy’s paper.
Dale Tuggy, “On Counting Gods” Theologica: An International Journal for Philosophy of Religion and Philosophical Theology 2017: 188-213.  https://doi.org/10.14428/thl.v1i1.153

bookmark_borderHinman’s ABEAN Argument – Part 1: “Eternal and Necessary”

Joe Hinman wants me to seriously consider two arguments for the conclusion that “God is real”.  I’m going to focus on his ABEAN argument for a number of posts, before I examine his argument from religious experience.
I have attempted to summarize Hinman’s  first argument in a brief standard form argument:
Hinman’s ABEAN Argument

1. All natural phenomena are contingent and temporal.

2. IF all natural phenomena are contingent and temporal, THEN some aspect of being is eternal and necessary.

THEREFORE:

3. Some aspect of being is eternal and necessary.

4. IF some aspect of being is eternal and necessary, THEN there is good reason to believe that the Ground of Being is real.

5. IF there is good reason to believe that the Ground of Being is real, THEN there is good reason to believe that God is real.

THEREFORE:

6. There is good reason to believe that God is real.

I think of this argument in terms of three steps or phases:
THREE STEPS OF THE ABEAN ARGUMENT
   Step 1            Step 2          Step 3
—->ABEAN—->GOBIR—->GIR

ABEAN:  Some aspect of being is eternal and necessary.

GOBIR:  The Ground of Being is real.

GIR: God is real.

Each of these three key conclusions is unclear, at least they are unclear to me.  Perhaps Hinman has a clear idea of what these three assertions mean, but before I can have any hope of rationally evaluating his ABEAN argument, I need to have a better understanding of what these assertions mean, what they imply and what they don’t imply, what they rule out, and what they don’t rule out.
The Meaning of ABEAN
The first step or phase of Hinman’s argument is to show that ABEAN is true:

ABEAN: Some aspect of being is eternal and necessary.

But meaning is prior to truth.  We must first understand the meaning of ABEAN before we can assess whether it is true or false, coherent or incoherent.
Here are some other similar assertions with different subjects that should be understood in relation to the meaning of ABEAN:

ATEAN:  Some aspect of TIME is eternal and necessary.

ASEAN:  Some aspect of SPACE is eternal and necessary.

AMEAN:  Some aspect of MATTER is eternal and necessary.

AJEAN:  Some aspect of JELLO is eternal and necessary.

Here are some other similar assertions with different predicates that should be understood in relation to the meaning of ABEAN:

ABBAY: Some aspect of being is bright and yellow.

ABCAR: Some aspect of being is curved and round.

ABSAP: Some aspect of being is strong and powerful.

ABAAA: Some aspect of being is alive and aware.

If the meaning of ABEAN is clear to someone, then the meanings of the above similar statements should also be clear to that person.  If Hinman understands the meaning of ABEAN, then he ought to be able to explain the meaning of these similar statements, and comment on their coherence or incoherence, and their truth or falsehood.
Some of the above statements may be incoherent. but a person who understands the ABEAN assertion should be able to understand and explain why such an incoherent statement was incoherent.  For example, it might be incoherent to assert ABBAY, the assertion that some aspect of being is bright and yellow, because there is a category mistake in applying the properties of “bright and yellow” to being.  The same might be said about ABCAR, and the application of the properties “curved and round” to being.  But if we are to reject ABBAY and ABCAR as incoherent because they apply inappropriate properties to being, how can we be confident that ABSAP and ABAAA are not also incoherent statements?  And if ABSAP and ABAAA are incoherent statements, then how could we be confident that ABEAN was not similarly incoherent?  What sorts of properties can we coherently apply to “being”?
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NOTE:
We are much more familiar with describing physical objects, plants, animals, people, human activities, historical events, etc.  People don’t generally go around describing “being”.  So, the rules or logic and language concerning how to talk about “being” are unfamiliar at the very least, and are presumably unclear, at least to most of us.
However, we do sometimes talk intelligently and coherently about abstractions like “gravity” and “integers” and “science” and “logic” and “time” and “morality”,  so it is possible to make coherent statements about abstractions.  We cannot simply rule out the possibility that there are coherent and true statements that can be made about “being”.
I, for one, would be more comfortable talking about the properties of “being” if there was a collection of several statements ascribing properties to “being” where those statements have a fairly clear meaning and also were obviously true, or at least seemed to be true.  (Mr. Hinman or anyone else reading this post: Can you provide some examples of clear statements about being that are clearly true or that at least seem to be true?  I’m looking for statements about being that are less controversial than ABEAN.)
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Furthermore, if ABSAP and ABAAA are incoherent statements, then it is hard to see how it would be coherent to make similar assertions about the Ground of Being, namely that the Ground of Being was strong and powerful, and that the Ground of Being was alive and aware.  But if we cannot coherently make these assertions about the Ground of Being, then how can we coherently make these assertions about God?  But surely any God who is worthy of worship must be (at the least) strong and powerful and alive and aware.  So, if we cannot coherently make these sorts of assertions about the Ground of Being, then the ABEAN argument falls apart.
Let’s consider what Hinman has to say about the meaning of ABEAN, and whether his comments and attempts at clarification help to answer these questions and concerns:
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BB:
What does it mean to say that an “aspect of being is eternal”?
Joe:
There are only three alternatives for origin of all things given the assumption of cause and effect. They are             (1) reality began in a state of nothing and something emerged from nothing, (2) There is an Infinite Causal Regression (ICR) that just happens to always be as a brute fact. (3) Something exists eternally that gives rise to all that is. for various reasons I reject 1 and 2. From the premise that something cannot come from true absolute nothing, something must be eternal and thus able to give rise to all that is not eternal. So at this point we have a distinction between the eternal which I might call “primordial being;” the first form of being, or “ground of being,”  and temporal being or “the beings.” McQuarrie makes the distinction between primordial being and the beings.
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Joe provides three alternatives and attempts to eliminate two of the alternatives.  Joe rejects the option that something came from nothing (hereafter: SFN), and he rejects the option of an infinite causal regress (ICR).  That leaves the third alternative: “Something exists eternally that gives rise to all that is.”
But “all that is” would include the “something that exists eternally”, so this option can be ruled out, since it is logically impossible for something to give rise to itself.  However, I think Joe unintentionally incorrectly stated the third option.  Here is a revised version of the third option that avoids the logical contradiction of a self-caused being:

SEE: Something exists eternally that gives rise to everything else that has ever existed.

This is more like the language of traditional arguments for God, and I have no problem with the meaning or coherence of SEE (unless Hinman understands the meaning of this sentence in an odd and idiosyncratic way that is different than it would be understood in relation to traditional arguments for the existence of God).
I take it that the initial phrase “Something exists eternally” represents the meaning of the assertion that “an aspect of being is eternal” and that the remainder of the sentence (“that gives rise to everything else that has ever existed”) represents the meaning of “an aspect of being is necessary”.
The “something” here is clearly what Hinman will at some later point argue to be identical with “God”, but then it would follow logically that “God exists”, which is a statement that Hinman wishes to avoid asserting.  Perhaps he only avoids the expression “God exists” because of a concern that this statement, while being a true statement, would tend to be misunderstood in a way that the assertion “God is real” would not tend to be misunderstood (?).  But if Hinman actually rejects the claim “God exists”, then he cannot use SEE as part of his case, because in identifying “God” with the “something” that “exists eternally”, he will logically imply that “God exists” is a true statement.
The ordinary meaning of “exists eternally” is as follows:

X exists eternally IF AND ONLY IF  (a) X has always existed in the past,  and (b) X exists right now, and (c) X will always continue to exist in the future.

There is an indication in one of Hinman’s recent comments about his ABEAN argument, that he is using the phrase “exists eternally” in this ordinary sense of those words:
My point is some thing has to be eternal, the big bang is not eternal, it has a beginning…
The Big Bang is not eternal because “it has a beginning”.  In other words, the Big Bang did NOT always exist in the past, so the Big Bang is not something that exists eternally.
If Hinman is using the phrase “exists eternally” in the ordinary sense of that phrase, then I see a serious problem with his argument in support of ABEAN.  He has left out at least two other options:

Option 4: Something has always existed in the past prior to the beginning of the universe, caused the universe to begin to exist, then ceased to exist (at some later point in time in the past).

Option 5: Something has always existed in the past prior to the beginning of the universe, caused the universe to begin to exist, but will cease to exist either now or at some later point in time in the future.

Hinman’s argument is logically invalid, because it presents us with three alternatives, and eliminates two alternatives, leaving us with the conclusion that SEE is true, but there are more than just the three alternatives that Hinman’s argument presents, so we cannot logically conclude that the third alternative, SEE, is true.  Hinman’s argument for SEE is a false dilemma, or to be more precise, a false trilemma.
Hinman also appears to commit the same fallacy as Aquinas and Geisler in the sloppy use of the ambiguous word “something”.  SEE has at least two different meanings:

SEE1:  There is exactly one thing that exists eternally that gave rise to everything else that has ever existed.

SEE2:  There is at least one thing that exists eternally that gave rise to everything else that has ever existed.

Only SEE1 identifies a single thing, and thus only SEE1 can be used to point to a thing that could be identified with “the Ground of Being” or with “God”.  If there were many things that existed eternally, then we could not identify “the Ground of Being” or “God” with what exists eternally (unless we want to conceive of God as a collection or set of different things, but  I don’t think Hinman’s concept of God allows for God to be a collection or set of different things).
Once again, there appear to be more alternatives than just the five alternatives that we have mentioned so far.  Each alternative that begins with the word “something” must be clarified and turned into two separate alternatives.  Thus SEE must be clarified and turned into SEE1 and SEE2,  and Option 4 and Option 5 must also be clarified and turned into Options 4A, 4B, 5A, and 5B, so we are now up to a total of eight alternatives ( SFN, ICR, SEE1, SEE2, Option 4A, Option 4B, Option 5A, and Option 5C).  We are way beyond a trilemma at this point.
Let’s consider what Hinman has to say in an attempt to clarify what he means by saying that “an aspect of being is necessary”:
=======================
BB:
What does it mean to say that an “aspect of being is necessary”?
Joe: 
In this case, that of ultimate origin. I see necessary more in terms of causality, whereas Necessary is usually taken to mean x is necessary iff x must exist in the same way in all possible worlds. Another way to say it, if it cannot cease or fail to exist. I think that is also true of God, God is necessary in that way. But in thinking about ultimate origins I think that there is another implication that being eternal God is uncased and thus not the product of any conditions prior to himself. Moreover, being the eternal aspect of  being God is in some sense the necessary condition upon which all contingencies depend. In this case being necessary is an implication of being eternal.
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Hinman says that “Another way to say it” is “if it cannot cease or fail to exist”.  This sounds like a definition:

X is necessary IF AND ONLY IF X cannot cease or fail to exist.

Previously, Hinman suggested that we understand the claim “An aspect of being is eternal” as meaning that “Something exists eternally”, so it seems reasonable to follow the same pattern and to understand the claim “An aspect of being is necessary” as meaning that “Something exists necessarily”.  Presumably, “X exists necessarily” means the same as “X is necessary”, so the above definition works for either phrase.  So, we have a series of expressions that have the same meaning:

Equivalence 1: “An aspect of being is necessary” means “Something exists necessarily”.

Equivalence 2: “Something exists necessarily” means “Something is necessary”.

Equivalence 3: “Something is necessary” means “Something cannot cease or fail to exist”.

From these three equivalences we may validly infer a fourth equivalence:

Equivalence 4: “An aspect of being is necessary” means “Something cannot cease or fail to exist”.

Hinman states that  “I think that there is another implication that being eternal God is uncased and thus not the product of any conditions prior to himself. … In this case being necessary is an implication of being eternal.”
But I don’t see how “being eternal” has any such implication.   Given the understanding that I have outlined of what it means to say that “X is eternal” and given the understanding that I have outlined of what it means to say that “X is necessary”, the claim that “X is necessary” does NOT follow logically from the claim “X is eternal”.
I take it that “X is eternal” means the same thing as “X exists eternally”, and my current understanding of the meaning of “X exists eternally ” is this:

X exists eternally IF AND ONLY IF  (a) X has always existed in the past,  and (b) X exists right now, and (c) X will always continue to exist in the future.

My current understanding of the meaning of “X is necessary” is this:

X is necessary IF AND ONLY IF X cannot cease or fail to exist.

Thus, if “X exists eternally” logically implied “X is necessary”, then the following inference would be logically valid:

(7) X has always existed in the past,  and X exists right now, and X will always continue to exist in the future.

THEREFORE:

(8) X cannot cease or fail to exist.

This inference, however, is logically INVALID.  The universe could, in theory, have always existed in the past, and exist right now, and always continue to exist in the future, even though the existence of the universe was contingent on God’s will that it exist.
Aquinas pointed out long ago that an eternal universe could be eternally dependent upon God, and thus even if the universe has always existed and continued to exist forever, the universe would remain contingent upon the will of God, and thus the universe CAN cease or fail to exist, namely IF God were to decide someday that it should cease to exist.  If God never in fact chooses to make the universe cease to exist, that would only make it a fact that the universe continues to exist forever, not a necessity that that universe continues to exist forever.
So, either Hinman is WRONG about his claim that “X is eternal” logically implies “X is necessary” or else he has some OTHER MEANING in mind for these expressions than what I have been able to discern so far.
In conclusion, I think I have a fairly good understanding of claims like “Something exists necessarily” and “Something exists eternally”.  So, if the somewhat perplexing expression “An aspect of being is necessary” simply means “Something exists necessarily” then I have no problem with understanding the former assertion.  Similarly, if the somewhat perplexing expression “An aspect of being is eternal” simply means “Something exists eternally”, then I have no problem understanding the former assertion.  But given the apparently invalid inference that Hinman makes, I’m not sure that he would accept these as equivalences, as statements having the same meaning.
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CORRECTION (6/27/17 at 8am):
Normally, when I find a mistake in my reasoning or a questionable factual claim in a post that I have recently published (say in the past 24 hours),  I just revise the post to fix the problem, and don’t bother to point out my error.   However, this post is a part of a debate with Joe Hinman, so I feel obliged to be more circumspect about making revisions to this post; hence this “correction” notice.
Above, I make this critical comment:
…so we are now up to a total of eight alternatives ( SFN, ICR, SEE1, SEE2, Option 4A, Option 4B, Option 5A, and Option 5C).  We are way beyond a trilemma at this point.
This comment is a conclusion based on a mistake in reasoning that I made.
I stand by the point that the word “something” is ambiguous and can mean either “at least one X”  or “exactly one X”.  However,  I was mistaken in treating these as two separate and independent possibilities.   The possibility that there is “at least one X” that is eternal includes the possibility that there is “exactly one X” that is eternal.  These two statements overlap in terms of possibilities.  Therefore, although the word “something” is ambiguous, if Hinman chooses to go with the broader sense of the word, i.e. “at least one X”,  then only five of the alternatives that I mention would be required to cover all of the possibilities, or at least all of the possibilities included in my list of eight alternatives (here are the five: SFN, ICR, SEE2, 4B, and 5B).

bookmark_borderDoes William Lane Craig Actually Believe in Evil?

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Taylor Carr republished on The Secular Outpost with permission. The original post may be found on his blog, The Godless Skeptic.

If it’s right for someone to permit some event, then his action is just right… On my view, the wrongness of an action is determined by its being forbidden by God. An action is morally permissible if it is not forbidden by God. Now obviously God didn’t forbid permitting the Haitian earthquake, so it has the right-making property of being permitted by God.

-William Lane Craig

The above quote is from a debate between Michael Tooley and William Lane Craig. In the debate, Professor Tooley focuses largely on the evidential problem of evil, which forms the context of this quote. Craig disputes Tooley’s ideas on balancing right-making and wrong-making properties to determine the overall morality of an action, instead declaring that whatever god allows is what’s right. There are no exceptions, he wants to emphasize, which he indicates by his bold remark about the 2010 Haitian earthquake being right simply because god permitted it to occur.

Let’s consider the implications of these statements. According to Craig, anything that has happened has been right for god to allow, since rightness is, by definition, whatever god allows. This doesn’t just mean the Haitian earthquake, but also includes the centuries of bloodshed known as the Crusades, the horrible tortures during the Inquisition, the terrible suffering of the Black Death, the slaughter of Native Americans, the ruthless regimes of Stalin and Pol Pot, the mass rapes committed during the Bosnian War, Hitler’s extermination of millions of Jews, the child abuse epidemic within the Catholic Church, and much, much more. It will not do to credit any of these to human will because, as Craig explains, whatever god permits is right. There is no wiggle room. To entertain that allowing these atrocities was anything but right for god would be to suggest that there are moral ambiguities or moral evils which god could commit, and Craig can’t have that.

This raises the question, then, about what evil actually means on Dr. Craig’s worldview. He says that wrong action is whatever is forbidden by god, but if god exists, he has historically allowed rape, murder, torture, child molestation, slavery, racism, sexism, cannibalism, genocide, injustice, and a litany of other ills. Is there anything that god could not or would not allow? It seems hard to imagine what he could be withholding from our world, so perhaps it’s not any of the acts themselves that he would forbid, but just a certain severity of them. God only allows the amount of evil that’s necessary for us to be free agents. Craig has claimed this in several debates.

However, it’s difficult to make a persuasive case for this when looking at some of the atrocities of history, particularly the ones I’ve already elaborated on. It also implies that god has some puzzling priorities. Is free will that worth it to god that he would allow six million Jews to die in Nazi Germany? Add to that the deaths from the other mentioned atrocities, as well as additional unmentioned ones, and the death toll climbs staggeringly high. There are over 774,000 words in the Bible. In order for god to give us free will, more than ten times that number of human beings have had to suffer and die in agonizingly cruel and reprehensible ways. Craig encourages us to trust our intuitions about the existence of objective moral values, yet we’re supposed to suppress them when they tell us that there is too much pain and evil in this world for a perfectly good god to be running things.

It could be argued that prioritizing free will over the prevention of suffering and evil is itself an evil. In fact, we recognize something like this when we prevent our children from doing things that would be otherwise harmful to themselves or to others. We stop them from exercising their free will, while we simultaneously teach them why what they want to do is wrong, so that some day when they mature, they will hopefully make better decisions. We don’t just talk the talk, we make them walk the walk, too, if we are responsible parents. Until they mature, they won’t appreciate the wide array of complex issues in the moral sphere. Now, if god exists, and if his grasp on morality is far more perfect than ours, why would he not be like the understanding parent who guides her children in more than just words, knowing that they don’t see what she sees?

When responding to the problem of evil in his debates, Dr. Craig very often raises the possibility of unknown reasons god might have for allowing the existence of some evils. The atheist, he challenges, must prove that god can have no such reasons in order to claim that there are unnecessary evils, and of course Craig doesn’t think this can be done, since we are all limited in our capacity for knowledge. It could very well be that there is nothing god would not allow, and that therefore there is no such thing as evil for god. In a sense, this looks like what Craig believes. He might say god could not contradict his own nature, but if his nature already allows for acts of rape, murder, torture, child abuse, etc., what reason is there to think that anything could contradict god’s nature?

William Lane Craig is a Divine Command Theorist. He believes, as he’s explained in numerous debates, that god’s nature is good, and that his commands flow from his nature. But, like I just stated, things like rape, murder, torture, child abuse, and so forth, are apparently consistent with god’s nature. After all, if god permits something, it must be right for god. To say these things are inconsistent with the divine nature would be to say that they would not be allowed by god. However, they certainly have happened in our history and continue to happen. So now the troubling question. If god’s nature is consistent with these heinous acts – if he has permitted them to take place – why would we think he might not command us to commit any of them? If Dr. Craig is right about god only allowing the minimal amount of evil for free will to exist, and having hidden reasons for allowing apparently unnecessary evils, and historically having permitted only that which is right for him to permit, then what stands in the way of god commanding us to commit acts of rape, murder, or child abuse, if they will fulfill some godly purpose?

Craig is known for sometimes quoting Dostoevsky – “without god, everything is permitted” (this quote is not exactly accurate, though). But here we start to see that it’s actually Dr. Craig’s worldview that seems to permit everything. In fact, even the apostle Paul said as much in 1 Corinthians 10:23 – “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable” (NAS). Paul encouraged the believers of his day to eat meat sacrificed to idols, because they knew idols were just wood and stone. But if eating the meat might cause a fellow believer to stumble, Paul said, you should not do it. In other words, if your conscience is clear before god, everything is permitted… just don’t lead others into temptation. Paul’s opinion on circumcision is very similar; fine for some, bad for others.

Another quote Craig is well known for presenting in debates is from Michael Ruse. Without god, “ethics is illusory,” Bill cries emphatically to his opponents. On th
e contrary, though, it would seem that with all the unbelievably hurtful and immoral acts god has permitted down the course of history, ethics is inescapably illusory on Dr. Craig’s worldview. God’s nature is consistent with allowing every conceivable evil, and his commands, flowing from that nature, come with no guarantee of being any different. If we’re to believe the traditional account of the fall of Lucifer, god even allowed the emergence and continued existence of Satan, the embodiment of pure evil. With so ambiguous a nature, there is literally no reason to think god would never command any act that we would normally regard as evil. 


This is why William Lane Craig’s excuses fail when he attempts to distinguish between what theists believe about god’s nature being good and how Divine Command Theory is often understood as positing that good is whatever god commands. On either account, goodness has no normative force, no distinctive essence. God will be just as good to allow someone to feed the starving emaciated children of Haiti as he will be to allow the Duvaliers and others to exterminate them in the cruelest ways. God will be just as good to command the feeding of five thousand as he will be to command the genocide of entire peoples (Deut. 2:34, Joshua 6:21, 1 Samuel 15:2-3). On Craig’s view, there is to be no real distinction between these extremes that the overwhelming majority of us would recognize in clear terms of right and wrong. So long as god has prescribed or permitted them, none of it should be called evil. 

Only what god forbids is wrong. But when he forbids the same acts he has otherwise allowed, we see the uselessness of such a framework. Morality is reduced to a matter of “do as I say, not as I do”. As previously stated, even if we suppose god has hidden reasons for commanding what he does, the fact that his nature is consistent with allowing every conceivable evil makes it fairly dubious that all those reasons are justifying reasons. Particularly in the case of animal suffering, there seems to be an evil that is without justification. Apologists often assert that god allows human suffering to bring us closer to him, but animals do not participate in relationships with god, according to Christian doctrine. Their suffering, then, would seem to be unnecessary.

There is something that appears insufficient to me about this distinction between what god allows and forbids, too. Philosophers and ethicists test the strength of their moral theories by holding them up to our moral experience and moral intuitions. I don’t think any of us can argue that we perceive certain actions as being right and certain actions as being wrong. There are grey areas, to be sure, but we can also distinguish between many different acts and form judgments accordingly. In other words, good moral theories have some capability to predict or elaborate what actions will be right or wrong in hypothetical scenarios. Dr. Craig’s Divine Command Theory lacks this capability, in my opinion. It cannot judge an action even when all of its consequences and causes are taken into account. The only time it will be able to make a judgment is when that additional information exists: does god will the action or does he forbid it? Scripture can be no help, since god has willed and forbidden murder at various times, for example, and – to bring things back around to where we started – history also records the terrible things god has permitted.

In conclusion, I’m not convinced that William Lane Craig actually believes in evil, despite his insistence that he does. At best, it must be a pale vestige of what he demands of the atheist – a bizarre sort of wrongness that rests on the nature of a morally ambiguous being that has historically contradicted our most basic moral intuitions. What can it mean to call rape evil under Craig’s view of morality? It can’t mean that god’s nature is inconsistent with rape, because he has allowed it for centuries, and god cannot permit what is wrong. It can’t mean that god disapproves of rape, because it is consistent with his nature. The most it can apparently mean is “god says no to rape in this instance”. Why this instance? Why say no at all? Perhaps he has some hidden reason. Or perhaps the hidden truth is that ethics is illusory on Dr. Craig’s worldview.

bookmark_borderThe Logic of the Resurrection – Part 1

In thinking about the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus, one needs to either determine an answer to this very basic question:
Q1: Does God exist?
Or else one needs to determine some sort of approach to how this question is to be dealt with in relation to the two key questions about the resurrection:
Q2: Did Jesus rise from the dead?
and
Q3: Did God raise Jesus from the dead?
If one determines that there is no God, then the answer to (Q3) is obviously: NO.  Also, if one determines that the answer to (Q3) is NO, then the answer to (Q2) becomes much less interesting or significant.  If God did not raise Jesus from the dead, then who cares whether or how Jesus rose from the dead?  (Q2) would become just a quaint question of interest to perhaps a small handful of ancient historians.
Obviously skeptics cannot simply assume that there is no God when arguing with Christian believers.  That would beg the question against the Christian point of view.  But one skeptical strategy would be to dig in, and argue for atheism, in an effort to answer both (Q1) and (Q3), thus showing (Q2) to be an insignificant and unimportant question.
One could also take the opposite approach, and concede the existence of God from the start, for the sake of argument, and then proceed to argue that these two key Christian claims are probably false:
JRD:  Jesus rose from the dead.
GRJ: God raised Jesus from the dead.
Swinburne suggests a third alternative which is a sort of compromise between the previous two approaches.  He begins his case for the resurrection of Jesus on the assumption that  “given that general background evidence makes it as likely as not that there is a God…” (The Resurrection of God Incarnate; hereafter: ROGI, p.5).
GE: God exists.
B: [general background evidence]
Swinburne’s assumption for his case for the resurrection of Jesus is thus:
P(GE | B) = .5
A skeptic could take a similar approach but make a somewhat less generous assumption (which could be argued for separately, as Swinburne did):
P(GE | B) = .2
or
P(GE | B) = .1
Ideally, I think skeptics should combine two (or more) of these approaches.  If a case can be made against the resurrection while simply conceding, for the sake of argument, that God exists, then that should be done.  If such a case can be made (and I believe it can), then a skeptic could also begin with Swinburne’s assumption, to show that the resurrection of Jesus is unlikely even if we assume that there is a 50/50 chance that God existsStarting out with these generous assumptions and yet showing that the resurrection of Jesus is still improbable is a powerful way to argue against the resurrection and against the truth of the Christian religion.
Although (Q3) cannot be tackled without making some sort of assumption about the existence of God, (Q2) can be considered apart from making such an assumption.  The claim (JRD) can be considered in terms of two relatively straightforward historical and non-theological claims:
(DOC)  Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
(JAW) Jesus was alive and walking around (unassisted) on Sunday, only about 48 hours after he was crucified.
If these historical claims about Jesus can be established on the basis of objective historical evidence, investigation, and analysis, then (JRD) can be established on the basis of objective historical evidence, investigation, and analysis.  Furthermore, if one or both of these historical claims can be shown to be false or questionable on the basis of objective historical evidence, investigation, and analysis, then (JRD) can be shown to be false or questionable on the basis of objective historical evidence, investigation, and analysis.
If an estimated probability can be assigned to (DOC) and to (JAW), then we can use those estimated probabilities to determine a probability for (JRD).  Suppose we accomplish this task and have arrived at a probability for (JRD).  The next step in evaluating the Christian doctrine of the resurrection would be to use the probability assigned to (JRD) to determine the probability of the main Christian claim (GRJ).
But even if it could be shown that (JRD) was very probable, it would not follow that (GRJ) was probable.  One reason why this would not follow is that (GRJ), unlike (JRD), presupposes that God exists.  Thus, one must now make some kind of assumption about the probability of the existence of God before one can evaluate (GRJ), even if one is convinced that (JRD) is probably true.  If one determines that there is no God, no significant chance that there is a God, then (JRD) would just become an odd and quirky bit of historical trivia.
Let’s take the hard road here, and simply grant the assumption, for the sake of argument, that God exists.  I believe there are still very serious problems with the case for (GRJ), and good reasons to believe (GRJ) is false, even if we assume (GE) and (JRD) to be true.
There is one simple and straightforward way of attempting to prove (GRJ) on the basis of (JRD):
1. Only God has the power to raise the dead.
Thus:
2. Anyone who rises from the dead, must have been raised from the dead by God.
 3. Jesus rose from the dead. (JRD)
Therefore:
4. God raised Jesus from the dead. (GRJ)
Premise (1) is very questionable.  Clearly, God has the power to raise the dead, assuming that there is no logical contradiction in the idea of the resurrection of a dead person, because God is omnipotent by definition.  To say that ‘God exists’ is to imply that an ‘omnipotent person exists’.  But how could we possibly know that God was the ONLY person (or force) that could cause someone to rise from the dead?  What about angels? Or demons? What about lesser gods or deities?  What about wizards? What about magic elixirs?
How would we come to know that, for example, an angel cannot bring a human back to life from the dead? We cannot talk with angels or observe the actions of angels.  We cannot ask angels to perform a resurrection, or entice an angel with money or gifts to attempt to perform a resurrection.  Isn’t the trumpeting of Michael the Archangel supposed to herald the second coming of Jesus (1 Thess. 4:16)?  If so, perhaps it is Michael who will bring the dead back to life.  In any case, I see no way to objectively determine that God was the ONLY person or being who has the power to raise the dead.  Assuming there is a God, there might well be other supernatural kinds of persons and beings.
One might try to prove that God is the ONLY supernatural being, and that there are no other supernatural persons, that there are no such beings as angels or demons.  But in that case, the theological teachings of Jesus would be filled with falsehoods, because Jesus frequently talked about angels and demons as real beings who are actively involved in the events of this world.  If there are no angels and no demons, then Jesus was a false prophet whose teachings were NOT from God, and it would be unlikely that God would raise a false prophet from the dead.
Finally, since God is omnipotent, God can give virtually any power to any person to whom God wishes to give it.  If God wants to give Moses the power to raise the dead, then God can do so.  If God wants to give Jesus the power to raise the dead, then God can do so.  We don’t know whether God has in fact given such power to other persons or creatures, but he can do so easily and instantly if he so chooses.  Therefore, there is no solid and objective reason or evidence that shows premise (1) to be true, and the above argument thus fails to establish (GRJ) on the basis of (JRD).

bookmark_borderReligious Experience – Recognizing God

Sam said to me and our gathered friends:
Give me someone who is willing to sit down and take a three-hour Chemistry test, and another hour to review the test after it is completed, then I will be able to give you a reliable estimation of how much that person knows about chemistry.
This claim was plausible; it made sense to me, especially in view of the fact that the Graduate Record Exam Chemistry Test has about 130 multiple-choice questions, and students are given two hours and fifty minutes to take the test.  The GRE Chemistry Test does NOT attempt to assess all current knowledge of chemistry.  It has a somewhat more limited scope:
 Scores on the tests are intended to indicate knowledge of the subject matter emphasized in many undergraduate programs as preparation for graduate study.  (p.3, Graduate Record Examinations Chemistry Test Practice Book, copyright 2009 by Educational Testing Service.)
Because of the diversity of undergraduate curricula, it is not possible for a single test to cover all the material you may have studied.  The examiners, therefore, select questions that test the basic knowledge and skills most important for successful graduate study in the particular field. (p.4, Graduate Record Examinations Chemistry Test Practice Book, copyright 2009 by Educational Testing Service.)
So, I was inclined to believe Sam’s claim.  But then Jack made a stronger claim:
Give me someone who is willing to talk with me about chemistry for twenty minutes, then I will be able to give you a reliable estimation of how much that person knows about chemistry.
If it takes professional educational testers about three hours to determine the level of “the basic knowledge and skills most important for successful graduate study” in chemistry, then I am skeptical that Jack can provide a reliable assessment of a person’s knowledge of chemistry based on  just one twenty minute conversation.
Then Cheryl made an even more incredible claim:
Give me someone who is willing to talk with me about chemistry for just ten minutes, then I will be able to give you a reliable estimation of how much that person knows about chemistry.
I flat out did not believe Cheryl’s claim; there is simply no way that a ten minute conversation could provide enough information about a person’s knowledge of chemistry to make a reliable estimation of the extent of that person’s knowledge of chemistry.  Then Bob chimed in with an even more unbelievable claim:
Let me talk with someone about current politics for just five minutes, then I will be able to give you a reliable estimation of how much that person knows about chemistry.
Not to be outdone, across the room I hear Cindy pipe up:
Let me just sit in the same room with a person, not talk to them, just observe them for five minutes, then I will be able to give you a reliable estimation of how much that person knows about chemistry.
Apparently, there was some sort of extreme bullshitting contest going on, and my friends were all seing who could make the most ridiculous claim.  Now it was Tom’s turn; he shouted out:
I don’t need to even see the person.  Just put me in the same room with a person, with a blindfold over my eyes, and ear plugs in my ears, and give me just five minutes sitting in the same room with the person, then I will be able to give you a reliable estimation of how much that person knows about chemistry.
I thought that surely Tom had won the contest, but I was mistaken.  It was Shannon’s moment to shine; she proclaimed:
Put me in the same room with a person for five minutes while I’m blindfolded, and with my ears plugged, then I will be able to give you a reliable estimation of how much that person knows about chemistry, physics, and biology.
But this wild claim was quickly topped by Jason, who boasted:
Put me in the same room with a person for five minutes while I’m blindfolded and have my ears plugged, then I will be able to give you a reliable estimation of how much that person knows about chemistry, physics, biology, geology, astronomy, mathematics, pychology, sociology, linguistics, political science, history, philosophy, literature, art, and music.
Finally,  Lisa went for the golden ring and made a claim so absurd that the room, finally, fell silent:
Put me in the same room with an invisible and intangible spirit for just five minutes, and I will determine whether that spirit is omniscient, whether that spirit possesses more knowledge than all the knowledge ever possessed by human beings.
Lisa, you see, claims to be able to recognize when she is in the presence of an omniscient spirit simply by sensing the presence of a spirit for a few minutes.
QUESTION:
Do you think that Lisa won this bullshitting contest?

bookmark_borderGod as a ‘Necessary Being’ – Part 4

Previously, I argued that it is not possible to become eternal. Recall that a person P is eternal if and only if P has always existed and P will always continue to exist. Here is a step-by-step proof showing that it is impossible for a person to become eternal:
<————|———–|————–>
…………….t1………..t2
1. At time t1 person P is NOT eternal AND at a later moment t2 P is eternal. (supposition for indirect proof/reduction to absurdity)
2. At time t1 P is NOT eternal. (from 1)
3. At time t2 P is eternal. (from 1)
4. At t2 P exists. (from 3)
5. At every moment prior to t2 P exists. (from 3)
6. At every moment after t2 P exists. (from 3)
7. At t2 P exists AND at every moment prior to t2 P exists AND at every moment after t2 P exists. (from 4, 5, and 6)
8. If at t2 P exists AND at every moment prior to t2 P exists AND at every moment after t2 P exists, THEN at every moment P exists. (analytic truth)
9. At every moment P exists. (from 7 and 8)
10. EITHER at t1 P does not exist OR at some moment prior to t1 P does not exist OR at some moment after t1 P does not exist. (from 2)
11. If at t1 P does not exist, then there is a moment when P does not exist. (analytic truth)
12. If at some moment prior to t1 P does not exist, then there is a moment when P does not exist. (analytic truth)
13. If at some moment after t1 P does not exist, then there is a moment when P does not exist.(analytic truth)
14. There is a moment when P does not exist. (from 10, 11, 12, 13)
15. Any moment when P does not exist is a moment when it is NOT the case that P exists. (analytic truth)
16. There is a moment when it is NOT the case that P exists. (from 14 and 15)
17. It is NOT the case that at every momement P exists. (from 16)
18. At every moment P exists AND it is NOT the case that at every moment P exists. (from 9 and 17)

19. The following statement is FALSE: At time t1 person P is NOT eternal AND at a later moment t2 P is eternal. (1 through 18, indirect proof/ reduction to absurdity, because 18 is a self-contradiction that was deduced from 1).
Thus, it is logically impossible for a person to become eternal.
I have been thinking about omnipotence and the idea of omnipotence as an essential property of some person.
Some of my thoughts remind me of the conversations that boys in Jr. high used to have: “What if Superman was to get into a fight with Batman? I think Superman could take one swing at Batman and knock him so hard that he would land a block away.” Such conversations seem silly and trivial, but in the case of philosophy, it can be helpful to have a childlike enjoyment of such imaginary scenarios. Imagination helps one to map out the logical boundaries of a concept, plus it makes thinking about God fun, even for an atheist.
We have previously seen that ‘existence’ appears to be an essential property for anything that in fact exists, so if ‘necessary existence’ means ‘having existence as an essential property’ then necessary existence is nothing special. We have also seen that ‘being eternal’ is an attribute that cannot be lost; once something is eternal, it will always be eternal (and will always have been eternal). So, again having the property of ‘being eternal’ as an essential property is nothing special, there is no other way of ‘being eternal’. One cannot have the property of ‘being eternal’ as an accidental property.
I eventually want to figure out what it means for a person to have the property of ‘being eternally omnipotent’ as an essential property. But before I tackle that challenge, it may be helpful to first consider the simpler property of just being omnipotent. After that I will consider the more complex idea of having the property of omnipotence as an essential property.
Being omnipotent does not mean that one can literally do anything. An omnipotent being cannot create a four-sided triangle. This is no limitation of power or ability. The idea of a four-sided triangle is incoherent, so the statement “John made a four-sided triangle” is an incoherent statement, a statement that contains a self-contradiciton.
Can an omnipotent being create a rock so heavy that he cannot lift it? I agree with Swinburne’s analysis of this traditional problem. The answer is: YES.
But in order to do so, the omnipotent being must make itself less than omnipotent. Time is the key missing ingredient in this puzzle. At one point in time an omnipotent being creates a massive rock, say a rock that has ten times the mass of our universe. Then the omnipotent being causes itself to have a certain degree of weakness- the inability to lift rocks that are ten times the mass of our universe. Now the being is unable to lift the massive rock. The being, however, has sacrificed its omnipotence in order to achieve this feat, but it is a feat that an omnipotent being can achieve.
The being started out as an omnipotent being, formed the objective of creating a rock that it could not lift, and then using its unlimited power acheived that objective. However, in order to achieve the objective the being must sacrifice its omnipotence.
There are various other limitations on what God can do. God cannot change the past. This is because changing the past would involve backwards causation, and backwards causation is logically impossible. So, again God’s inablility to change the past is not a weakness or lack of power. The problem is, rather, that sentences like “John changed the past” are incoherent; they involve a logical self-contradiction.
Omnipotence can come into conflict with other divine attributes. God is perfectly good, and so according to Aquinas and Swinburne God cannot do evil. God’s goodness thus creates a limitation on what God can do. Human beings can be unjust and cruel but God is not able to be unjust or cruel, on this view. So human beings can do some things that God is unable to do. But this is considered to be a ‘legitimate’ exception or limitation of God’s power. So, when Christians assert that ‘God is omnipotent’ they usually will allow that God’s perfect goodness creates constraints on what God can do.
One might say that God can do anything that it is LOGICALLY POSSIBLE for a perfectly free and omniscient and perfectly good person to do.
I think there are some additional constraints on God’s power or ability to do things, but this clarification of ‘omnipotence’ covers the constraints that arise from God’s other divine attributes.
Can a person become omnipotent? or is omnipotence like the attribute of being eternal? One cannot become an eternal person, so perhaps it is also impossible for one to become an omnipotent person.
On the face of it, I don’t see an obvious problem with the idea of becoming omnipotent. Human beings have various powers and abilities. We can imagine becoming more and more powerful. One can imagine discovering one day that one can make objects ex nihilo (from nothing) just by willing the objects to appear. One can imagine stumbling on the power to move mountains or even planets by sheer willpower. Of course one could never have enough experiences to prove with certainty that one had become omnipotent, but we can imagine experiences that would strongly support this hypothesis. Thus, it seems perfectly conceivable that an ordinary human being could become an omnipotent person.
But once a person becomes omnipotent, one might think that they could never lose their omnipotence. We think of gaining great power as being like obtaining great wealth: someone else could take away what we have gained. But in the case of omnipotence, who could take that away? If I’m the biggest and strongest kid at school, then I don’t need to worry about a bully taking my lunch money, right? If I become omnipotent, then I don’t have to worry about any being taking away any of my power.
But what if there was another omnipotent person? Such a person, it would seem could take away my omnipotence, because our power would be equal, so I would not be like the biggest and strongest kid on the block, if there were other omnipotent persons who might want to take away some of my power.
However, there is an old puzzle about omnipotence that comes to mind: Can there be two omnipotent persons? It seems as if there can be no more than just one omnipotent person. Suppose that there are two omnipotent persons: John and Sara. John and Sara both simultaneously look at the same little gray rock resting on a desk. John wills the rock to immediately rise up into the sky, but Sara wills the rock to immediately plummet downward, through the desk and through the floor and the foundation, etc. These two objectives are not logically compatible with each other. The rock cannot both rise and fall at the same time. So, either the rock will rise and Sara’s will will be defeated by John’s will, or the rock will NOT rise and John’s will will be defeated by Sara’s will. At least one of them must fail to cause their desired outcome.
Let’s suppose that there can only be one omnipotent person in existence at any given point in time. Does that mean that becoming omnipotent, and thus being the one and only omnipotent person, would mean complete safety? Does this mean that I have no reason to fear losing some of my newly gained power? Sadly, it does not. Even if there can be at most only one omnipotent person, there is nothing to prevent some other person from being or becoming omniscient (all knowing).
If I have become omnipotent, I would still be in danger of losing my omnipotence if some other person was omniscient. This would set up the classic struggle between brains and brawn. The omniscient person would know everything about me, including my deepest secrets and my every thought. The omniscient person would know all of my weaknesses. The omniscient person would know every detail of my personal history. The omniscient person would know everything there was to know about human psychology and about how to persuade and manipulate other people. So, it is quite possible that an omniscient person could fool me into destroying myself or causing myself to become less than omnipotent, perhaps even getting me to make that other person into the one and only omnipotent person, and then that person would be both omniscient and omnipotent.
However, an omnipotent person does have a way to fight back. An omnipotent person could make himself or herself become omniscient. There is no obvious logical contradiction between there being two or more omniscient persons. Two people can know the same fact without there being any conflict or contradiction, for example. So, if an omnipotent person was concerned about the possibility of being fooled or manipulated by an omniscient person, then he or she could simply will it to be the case that he or she immediately became omniscient, and presumably a being that was both omnipotent and omniscient would not have to worry about a being that was merely omniscient being able to fool or manipulate him or her.
Nevertheless, although there is this nice strategy for how a person could easily secure his or her newly discovered omnipotence, there is no logical necessity that this would be the case. If you wake up tomorrow morning and have become an omnipotent being while you were asleep, it will probably take several hours or days before you have enough experiences to confidently conclude that you have become omnipotent. The experiences you have that convince you of this fact would be quite unusual and extraordinary experiences (such as moving the moon across the sky with just a thought), and those experiences would keep you very distracted for a while. You probably would not immediately start thinking about the question “How can I secure my omnipotence, so that if there is a omniscient being somewhere I can avoid being fooled or manipulated by that being into giving up or losing my omnipotence?”. For as long as you do not think about this question, you would be vulnerable to being deceived by an omniscient person.
Furthermore, even if you immediately began to worry about this possibility of being decieved by an omniscient person, you might not immediately come up with the solution of making yourself become omniscient. Having been an ordinary weak human being for many years, your attitudes and beliefs about yourself may take time to change, and you might not immediately realize that you have gained the ability to radically transform yourself.
Even if you immediately started to worry about the possibility of being deceived by an omniscient person, and even if you immediately realized that you had the power to make yourself omniscient, you might well hesitate to do so. You have lived your entire life up to that moment as a limited and finite human being, and willing yourself to become omniscient would mean basically willing yourself to become God. But being omniscient or having a God-like experience of reality would be radically different from experiencing reality as a limited and finite human being. Would you really want to give up ordinary human thoughts and feelings and experiences, to become a god-like being? The idea seems terrifying to me. I would certainly hesitate, and give some thought to the matter before turning myself into an omniscient person.
So, although it may be possible for an omnipotent person to turn himself or herself into a person who was also omniscient, it is quite possible that it would take a significant amount of time for a person who had recently become omnipotent to become worried about the possibility of being deceived by an omniscient person, to come up with the solution of making oneself omniscient, and to actually make the very serious decision to carry out this plan and make oneself omniscient, and some might well decide to live with the risk rather than to so radically transform their own consciousness of reality. Thus, it is likely that there would be a significant period of time in which a person who had become omnipotent would remain less than omniscient and thus would be subject to being deceived or manipulated by an omniscient person, so that the omnipotent person would destroy himself or herself or would cause the loss of his or her own omnipotence.
Therfore, it seems to me that not only is it possible for a person of finite and limited power to become an omnipotent person, but it is also possible for an omnipotent person to lose his or her omnipotence.

bookmark_borderGod as a ‘Necessary Being’ – Part 3

Richard Swinburne analyzes the concept of ‘necessary being’ into two implications (COT, p.241-242):
1. It is not a matter of fortunate accident that there is a God; he exists necessarily.
2. God is necessarily the kind of being which he is; God does not just happen to have the properties which he does.

In his simpler and more popular book on God (Is There a God?), Swinburne clarifies these implications further in terms of the concept of ‘essential properties’:
But theism does not claim merely that the person who is God has these properties of being everlastingly omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free. It claims that God has these properties necessarily–these are essential properties of God.
(ITAG, p.18)
Swinburne also defines this concept for us (see ITAG, p.18). Here is my formulation of Swinburne’s definition:
Definition 3:
Property P is an ESSENTIAL PROPERTY of a thing or a person X if and only if X could not cease to have property P and yet continue to exist.
In a comment on Part 2 of this series, Eric Sotnak points out a serious problem with this definition in relation to ‘necessary existence’. If we treat existence as a property and draw the implication that ‘necessary existence’ equates with having existence as an ‘essential property’, then every thing that exists would have necessary existence, and thus there would be nothing special about God possessing ‘necessary existence’.
I’m not sure how Swinburne would respond to this objection. However, for now, given that there are two parts to Swinburne’s analysis of ‘necessary being’, I’m goin to suggest that existence is not a property, and therefore Swinburne’s discussion about ‘essential properties’ does not apply to the concept of ‘necessary existence’.
That still leaves us with the question of whether part 2 of Swinburne’s analysis makes sense, given his definition of ‘essential properties’.
Before I begin working through a specific example, let me share a key passage from Swinburne that I’m struggling with:
By contrast, theism maintains that the personal being who is God cannot lose any of his powers or knowledge or become subject to influence by desire. If God lost any of his powers, he would cease to exist, just as my desk would cease to exist if it ceased to occupy space. And eternity (that is, everlastingness) also being an essential property of God, no individual who had begun to exist or could cease to exist would be God.
(ITAG, p.19)
Note how Swinburne relates the concepts of ‘eternity’ and ‘everlastingness’ to the concept of existence. By itself that makes perfect sense. If God is ‘eternal’ that implies that God has always existed and that God will always continue to exist. But then being ‘eternal’ or ‘everlasting’ implies existence, and Swinburne’s definition of essential properties does not work with the concept of existence.
Let’s suppose that ‘eternity’ is a property, and that some person P has this property. Can P be eternal on Monday, cease being eternal on Tuesday, and yet continue to exist for the remainder of Tuesday and the next day (Wednesday) as well?
This doesn’t seem to make sense to me. If P is eternal on Monday, that means that P will continue to exist forever. If P will continue to exist forever, then P will exist every day following that Monday. If P ceases to exist the next day, on Tuesday, then P will NOT have continued to exist forever, and the statement “P will continue to exist forever” (made on Monday) will have been dispoved, shown to be false. But that means that it was also false to say “P is eternal” (on Monday). In sum, if there is ever a day where P ceases to exist, then the claim “P is eternal” will be a false claim for any day prior to the day when P ceases to exist.
Now something like resurrection does seem logically possible, so it might be possible for a person to cease to exist for a period of time, and then come back into existence. If this is logically possible, then there is a sense in which ‘P is eternal’ might be correct, even if P later ceases to exist. If P ceases to exist for a period of time, and then P is brought back into existence and then continues to exist forever, without interruption, it is tempting to say that the claim “P is eternal” was correct even though there was a period of time (after that claim was made) in which P did not exist.
This particular complexity can be set aside by means of a definition. The meaning of ‘eternal’ in terms of this being a divine attribute implies that there will be no interruption of existence. In asserting that ‘God is eternal’ the theist means that God has always existed (without interruption) in the past, and that God will always continue to exist (without interruption) forever into the future.
Thus in supposing that a person P is eternal on Monday, in the sense intended when theists use this concept to describe God, it follows that P will also be eternal on Tuesday, and eternal on Wednesday, and so on forever and ever. Once you are eternal there is no going back to being non-eternal, at least not in terms of continuing to exist in the future.
What about the implication of having always existed in the past? Being eternal does not just mean existing forever into the future, it also means having always existed forever in the past.
Suppose again that a person P is eternal on Monday. We have previously determined that P cannot cease to exist on some day in the future, after that Monday, for that would mean that P was not really eternal on Monday. But what about P’s having always existed in the past? Could it be the case that on Monday P had always existed in the past, but that on Tuesday it was no longer the case that P had always existed in the past? Could this property of having always existed in the past go away?
The past cannot change. Let’s assume that this not a matter of physics, but is a matter of logic. Let’s assume that it is logically impossible for the past to change. So, if on Monday it was true that P had existed the previous Friday, then on the day after Monday (on Tuesday) it must still be the case that P had existed on the previous Friday. And if it was true on Monday that P had existed for every previous day back into eternity, then on the day after Monday (on Tuesday) it would still be the case that P had existed on each of those days prior to Monday.
Of course, P might cease to exist on Tuesday morning, and if so then on Wednesday it would be incorrect to say that ‘P has always existed’ since P would not have existed on Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning. But the possibility of P ceasing to exist on Tuesday morning is ruled out, because if it was in fact true on Monday that ‘P is eternal’ then P could not cease to exist on any day after Monday, including Tuesday.
So, it seems to me that if we treat ‘eternity’ or being ‘eternal’ as a property, this is an odd sort of property that one cannot eliminate or get rid of, in the way that one can eliminate or get rid of the property of being dirty or of being hungry. Once a person is eternal, that person will always be eternal; there is no going back.
OK. What about the idea of some person having the attribute of being eternal as an essential property? Does this make sense?
Suppose that there is a person Q who is essentially eternal, who possesses this property as an essential property. That means that Q is not only eternal but, according to the definition, if Q loses the property of being eternal, then Q will cease to exist. Do you see a problem here?
Q cannot lose the property of being eternal, because it is logically impossible for any person to lose the property of being eternal. So, we might as well say “If Q loses the property of being eternal, then Q will turn into a giant fire-breathing dragon”. The antecedent of the conditional statement will always be false, because it is logically impossible for any person to lose the property of being eternal. Because the antecedent is necessarily false, the conditional statement is necessarily true; it is a logically necessary truth.
Thus, it seems to me that ANY person who has the property of being eternal is also a person who has the property of being eternal as an essential property (given Swinburne’s definition above). Thus, there does not appear to be anything special or unique about having this property as an essential property. There cannot be any person who has the property of being eternal, but has this property as an accidental property rather than as an essential property.
To be continued…

bookmark_borderGod as a ‘Necessary Being’ – Part 2

Although there is an extensive discussion of the meaning of the claim ‘God is a necessary being’ by Richard Swinburne in his bookThe Coherence of Theism (revised edition, hereafter: COT), the main passages that I’m interested in understanding are found in a shorter and more popular book: Is There a God? (hereafter: ITAG), also by Swinburne.
In COT, Swinburne specifies two implications of the claim that ‘God is a necessary being’:
However, most theists, and certainly most theologians, have put forward two further claims [in addition to the usual claims about God’s divine attributes: omniscience, omnipotence, perfect goodness, etc.] which they have made central to their theism…. The first such claim is that God does not just happen to exist. It is not a matter of fortunate accident that there is a God; he exists necessarily. The other is that God is necessarily the kind of being which he is; God does not just happen to have the properties which he does. It is not by chance that he is omnipotent or omniscient. Being omnipotent is part of God’s nature.
(COT, p.241-242)
This gives us a general understanding and a feel for the meaning of the claim that ‘God is a necessary being’.
In ITAG, Swinburne provides further discussion of what this means, a discussion that is simpler and easier to follow than what he says in COT. First, he briefly explains the idea that God’s divine attributes are possessed necessarily:
But theism does not claim merely that the person who is God has these properties of being everlastingly omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free. It claims that God has these properties necessarily–these are essential properties of God.
(ITAG, p.18)
So, to say that, for example, ‘God has the property of being everlastingly omnipotent necessarily‘ means that ‘Being everlastingly omnipotent is an essential property of the person who is God’.
But this is only helpful if we understand what it means for a property to be an ‘essential property’ of a thing or a person. Here is his initial clarification:
Every object has some essential properties and some accidental (i.e. non-essential) properties. The essential properties of an object are those which it cannot lose without ceasing to exist.
(ITAG, p.18)
Swinburne gives two examples to illustrate this concept. The first example is about a physical object:
One of the essential properties of my desk, for example, is that it occupies space. It could not cease to occupy space (become disembodied) and yet continue to exist. Byt contrast, one of its accidental properties is being brown. It could still exist if I painted it red so that it was no longer brown.
(ITAG, p.18)
He gives a second example about a person (himself):
Persons are essentially objects with the potential to have (intentional) powers, purposes, and beliefs. I may be temporarily paralysed and unconscious and so have temporarily lost the power to think or move my limbs. But, if I lose the potential to have these powers (if I lose them beyond the power of medical or other help to restore them), then I cease to exist. On the other hand, my powers can grow or diminish, and my beliefs can change (I can forget things I once knew, and aquire new areas of knowledge), while the same I continues to exist through all the change.
(ITAG, p.18-19)
If Swinburne loses the potential to have the power of thinking, then Swinburne will cease to exist (even if his body continues to exist). So the property of ‘having the potential to have power of thinking’ is an essential property of Swinburne. But if Swinburne forgets the proof for Bayes Theorem, he can continue to exist. So, knowing the proof for Bayes Theorem is only an accidental property of Swinburne.
Definition 3:
Property P is an ESSENTIAL PROPERTY of a thing or a person X if and only if X could not cease to have property P and yet continue to exist.

To be continued…

bookmark_borderGod as a ‘Necessary Being’ – Part 1

In his book The Coherence of Theism (Revised edition, hereafter: COT), Swinburne defends the claim that the sentence ‘God exists’ makes a coherent statement.
In Part II of COT, Swinburne defends the coherence of the concept of “a contingent God”, which is basically the traditional concept of God minus the attribute of ‘necessary being’. In Part III, Swinburne analyzes, clarifies, and defines the attribute ‘necessary being’, but he concludes that when this attribute is added back into the concept of ‘God’, it is no longer possible to prove in a direct way that the concept of ‘God’ is coherent, or that the claim ‘God exists’ makes a coherent statement.
The basic problem is that God is a person, but the concept of person allows for the logical possibility of gaining or losing knowledge, and gaining or losing power, and gaining or losing freedom. When it is asserted that ‘God is a necessary being’ the implication is that it is NOT possible for God to gain or lose power, to gain or lose knowledge, or to gain or lose freedom. So, God is a very odd sort of person, a person whose very existence has a necessary connection with his continuing to be omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly free.
Swinburne’s analysis of the attribute ‘necessary being’ is complex and difficult. I’m not going to get into the gory details of his analyis. But even the general outlines of Swinburne’s understanding of this attribute are challenging to understand. I’m not entirely clear on what he means myself. But I’m going to attempt to understand and clarify some of the points Swinburne makes about ‘necessry being’. I will do this partly to help others understand this concept, but also partly to improve and clarify my own understanding (one of the best ways to get clearer on an idea is to try to explain it to other people).
Let’s start with a stripped-down version of Swinburne’s analysis of ‘a divine being’:
Definition 1:
X is A DIVINE BEING if and only if X is a person who is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free.

Let’s note some important aspects of this definition. First, on this definition, something can be ‘a divine being’ for a brief period of time. This concept of ‘a divine being’ would be useful to Mormons, for example, because they believe that humans can evolve to become gods, and that God was once a limited and finite person. Given Definition 1, a person can be a limited and finite human being for several decades, and then become ‘a divine being’.
Another important thing to note about Definition 1 is that it allows for a person to be ‘a divine being’ even if that person has only existed for a few years or a few days. So long as a person is omnipotent NOW, and omniscient NOW, and perfectly free NOW, that person is correctly categorized as ‘a divine being’.
But, as Swinburne asserts, traditional theism makes a stronger claim than this. When theists assert that ‘God exists’ they have something more in mind than just that there is a person who has recently become omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free. They are asserting that there is a person who HAS ALWAYS had those divine attributes, and who ALWAYS WILL have those attributes.
We can formulate a revised definition that is more in keeping with traditional theism:
Definition 2:
X is A DIVINE BEING if and only if X is a person who has always been omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free, and who always will be omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free.

On this narrower definition, the being worshipped by Mormons would not count as ‘a divine being’ because there was a point in time in the past when (according to Mormon doctrine) this person was NOT omnipotent or NOT omniscient or NOT perfectly free. Such a being would be impressive now, but given its less impressive level of power, knowledge, and/or freedom in the past, would be something less than ‘a divine being’ if we go with Definition 2.
Also worth noting is that in order to have ALWAYS been omnipotent, a person must have ALWAYS been in existence. And in order to ALWAYS continue to be omnipotent, a person must ALWAYS continue to exist. Thus, any being that satisfies the conditions set by Definition 2 must be an eternal being, a person who has always existed in the past, and who will always continue to exist in the future.
According to Swinburne, the word ‘God’ is a proper name that should be understood in terms of a definite description that allows us to pick out or identify one particular person. The definite description is basically the same as the characterization of ‘a divine person’. So, this characterization is supposed to apply to one, and only one, person:
ANALYSIS of ‘God exists’:
GOD EXISTS is true if and only if (a) something is a divine being, and (b) nothing else is a divine being.

For this analysis of ‘God exists’ to represent traditional theism, the phrase ‘a divine being’ needs to be understood in terms of Definition 2, rather than Definition 1.
Suppose that we determine that a particular person has always existed and that this person has always been omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free. What about determining if this person will always continue to be omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free? This determination might be possible in a couple of ways.
First, the person in question might communicate to us that he/she would continue to be omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free for all eternity. If we were already convinced that this person was omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free, then we would have good reason to believe this person was telling us the truth. Being omniscient, the person would know whether it was true that he/she would continue to be omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free for all eternity, and being both omniscient and perfectly free, the person would (according to Swinburne’s argumentation) have to be perfectly good, and thus would not be a great deceiver, so we could trust this person to tell us the truth on this matter.
But even if we could not base this determination on ‘divine revelation’ (as described in the previous paragraph), we would have good inductive reason to believe that this person would continue to be omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free. Since we have already concluded that the person has always been omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free (stretching back in to eternity in the past), it makes great sense to infer that it is highly probable that this person will continue to be omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free for a long time to come, perhaps for all eternity.
Thus, it seems possible that we could determine that some person satisfied the conditions required to be ‘a divine person’. If we also became convinced, perhaps by a philosophical argument, that there could be AT MOST just one such person, then we could identify a particular person as being ‘God’ and conclude that ‘God exists’.
But even if we somehow were able to come to this incredible conclusion, there would still be a philosophical/conceptual problem that would mean that traditional theism had not yet been fully verified. According to Swinburne, traditional theists also maintain that God is ‘a necessary being’. One of the key implications of this is that it is NOT sufficient for a person to have always been omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free, and to always continue to be omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free into eternity in order for that person to be ‘God’. As ‘a necessary being’ it is NOT a matter of chance that this being has always been and will always be omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free. This person is such that it is not possible for him/her to be anything less than ‘a divine being’.
Take the eternal existence of this person, for example. A being could conceivably be lucky and simply avoid by chance numerous bad events and circumstances which would have put an end to the existence of that being. Continuing to exist for all eternity on the basis of chance or good luck is not enough to qualify a person as having the sort of eternality that God is supposed to have. The eternal existence of God cannot rest on chance or luck, it must somehow be necessary and unavoidable that God continues to exist for all eternity.
In other words, given the above analysis of ‘God exists’ and given that we understand ‘a divine person’ in terms of Definition 2, this still leaves open the possibility that we locate and identify a person who has IN FACT always existed, and who will IN FACT always continue to exist, but this person is not really and fully ‘God’ because his/her continued existence is a matter of chance or luck, and is not absolutely secure.
So, the definition needs to be revised again, in order to add the attribute of ‘necessary being’ into the concept of ‘a divine being’ and thus into the analysis of the sentence ‘God exists’.

bookmark_borderAtheistic Moral Realism – Part 11

If I understand William Craig’s third objection to AMR, then he is basically offering an inductive  teleological argument for the existence of God (similar to how Richard Swinburne argues for God)  based on the assumption that there are objective moral values plus the claim that humans and the circumstances in which humans find themselves are such as to allow humans to live morally significant lives (we have free will, are able to grasp moral principles, are able to reason from moral principles to specific moral judgments, we have some tendency to behave in accordance with morality, and also face temptations to behave contrary to moral duties, and we have lots of opportunities to make morally significant choices that impact the lives of others).
Craig also needs to claim that not only is this correspondence between objective moral values and the nature of human life to be expected on theism, but that it is “fantastically improbable” from an atheistic or naturalist point of view.
If morality is a purely subjective thing, then God does not exist. At least, God as conceived of by most theists does not exist. The word ‘God’ as used by most theists entails ‘a perfectly morally good person’. If there are no objective moral values, then there is no such thing as a person who is ‘a perfectly morally good person’. That is to say, sentences of the form “So-and-so is a perfectly morally good person” are neither true nor false.  Since no such statement is true of any person, no person could be objectively identified as being a perfectly morally good person, and thus no person could be objetively identified as being ‘God’.
Of course, even if morality was purely subjective, there could still be an eternal, omnipotent, omniscient person who created the universe.  But if there were such a person, we could never conclude that this person was a perfectly morally good person.
Since we could not conclude that any person was perfectly morally good, we also could not conclude that any person is worthy of worship. An all-powerful and all-knowing creator would simply be a interesting and unusual person, but there would be no compelling reason to worship this person. If there is no person who is perfectly good, then there is no person who is worthy of worship, and no person worthy of the title ‘God’, in the sense that most theists intend.
What if morality is objective? What if there were “objective moral values”? Craig’s implied teleological argument assumes that there are such values, and also that it is “fantastically improbable” that the random natural process of evolution would lead to the origin of human creatures who were capable of living morally significant lives. Why would random natural processes have any tendency or inclination to favor the existence of such creatures?
If moral principles and moral virtues serve the purpose of helping humans to thrive, then it might well be the case that moral principles and moral virtues also help humans to survive and to pass on their DNA. In other words, if the purpose of morality is to help humans thrive, then morality might well have survival value.
According to Jesus, the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. In other words, the rule (one of the Ten Commandments) to take a day off from work each week serves the purpose of helping people to thrive (to be happy, healthy, cooperative, and successful). It is the benefits to human beings that justifies having such a rule. If, on the other hand, following this rule was harmful to humans or made human life miserable, then there would be no good reason to have or to follow such a rule.
If this is true of morality in general, if the purpose of morality is to benefit human beings, to help us to be happy, healthy, cooperative, and successful, then the purpose of morality is to help humans to thrive. If this is the purpose of morality, then morality appears to have some significant survival value. It appears to be something that helps human beings to survive and to pass on their DNA to future generations of human creatures, in comparison with humans or human-like creatures who have no morality, follow no moral principles, have no moral virtues.
In the debate between William Craig and Richard Taylor, Taylor makes some comments along such lines in his opening statement:
You don’t have to be religious to realize that for human beings to live in peace and happiness, they must not assault each other. I may want to assault, but I do not want to be assaulted. If I’m tempted to theft, still I do not want to be stolen from. If I’m tempted to murder, I do not want to be murdered. The rule thus emerges: Let no one do these things. Then we can live in peace. Then we can realize the human goods we need. Now if anyone thinks that we wouldn’t know that if God had not come down and given these laws to Moses on Mount Sinai, if anyone thinks we wouldn’t know that otherwise, that person must believe in the tooth fairy.
[…]
The natural basis of ethics is human need. There are certain things which all of us hate. We hate to bleed, we hate to be wounded, we hate to be killed, we hate to be stolen from, and we make our laws according to this. The natural basis is certain universal needs: the need for security, for safety, for love, the need to bring up our families in security, to teach our children to fulfill our own potentials as we can, and having these needs, we have rules. We have rules, and they are important.
(Craig–Taylor Debate: Is the Basis for Morality Natural or Supernatural?
http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/craig-taylor1.html
viewed 6/1/13)
If Taylor is correct that morality serves the basic needs of human beings for security, safety, and for love, then morality appears to have survival value, and Craig’s claim that it is “fantastically improbable” that the natural process of evolution would have a tendency to favor the origin of moral creatures (of creatures capable of living morally significant lives) is false. If morality has survival value, then it is NOT highly improbable that evolution would produce creatures who have characteristics that correspond with “objective moral values”.
However, Taylor’s view is that morality is conventional. Morality is something that human beings came up with in order to serve various basic human needs (for security, safety, love, etc.). If morality is something that human beings made or invented, then this would explain why morality has the PURPOSE of helping humans to thrive or to obtain basic human needs.
On the other hand, if “objective moral values” exist as necessary truths or as abstract entities like numbers, then it is unclear why “objective moral values” would have any tendency to serve basic human needs or to serve the purpose of helping humans to thrive, to be happy, healthy, safe, secure, and successful. So, Craig, or other defenders of Christianity could still press a similar point: it is fantastically improbable that such “objective moral values” would just happen to serve the purpose of helping humans to thrive.

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