By R.N. Carmona
Weaver’s argument, although robust, commits what I think is a cardinal sin in philosophy: “An objection from logical considerations against atheism is one which attempts to show that some deliverance of logic is at odds with atheism or something strictly implied by atheism” (Weaver, C.G. (2019). Logical Objections to Atheism. In A Companion to Atheism and Philosophy, G. Oppy (Ed.). https://doi.org/10.1002/9781119119302.ch30). One should not get in the habit of drawing ontological conclusions on the basis of logical considerations and though Weaver makes a good attempt to justify his conclusion, there are too many areas in his composite argument that are vulnerable to attack. There are parts of his composite argument that are clearly stated in his own words, but other parts have to be sifted out from his discussions, specifically on logical monism and classical logical consequence (CLC). Also, the conclusion that atheism is false has to be gathered from his discussion following his claim that ontological naturalism is false.
A general note, prior to proceeding, is in order. Weaver’s paper is quite technical and not at all easy for the untrained eye to read, let alone understand, so I will endeavor to avoid technicality wherever necessary; I will only permit pursuing one technical element because I disagree with Weaver’s treatment of supervenience, how he conveniently begs the question regarding reductionist materialism (if only to ensure that his argument is not met with immediate difficulty), and the conclusion he believes follows. More importantly, I think that the domestication of philosophy within the ivory towers of academia was a critical misstep that needs to be rectified. While analytic philosophy has its use, its abuse makes philosophy the slave of academic elites and therefore, keeps it well out of the reach of ordinary people. Philosophy, therefore, if it is to be understood by laypeople, needs to be communicated in ordinary, relatable language. Since my interest is to, first and foremost, communicate philosophy in an approachable way, I tend to avoid technicalities as much as possible. With that said, it is not at all necessary to quibble with Weaver’s logical proofs of validity (especially because validity matters much less than soundness) or Williamson’s notion that contingentist statements can be mapped onto necessitist ones and vice versa, but that “The asymmetry favours necessitism. Every distinction contingentists can draw has a working equivalent in neutral terms, but the extra commitments of necessitism allow one to draw genuine distinctions which have no working equivalents in neutral terms. If one wants to draw those distinctions, one may have to be a necessitist” (Williamson, T.. “Necessitism, Contingentism, and Plural Quantification.” Mind 119 (2010): 657-748. 86. Web.).
Williamson and Weaver, following his cue, are both guilty of ignoring logical atomism, so ultimately, it does not matter if the validity of logical statements suggests that necessitism about mere propositions is probably true because ultimately, we are not talking about mere propositions but rather Sachverhalte, “conglomerations of objects combined with a definite structure” (Klement, Kevin, “Russell’s Logical Atomism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2020 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)). This is perhaps Weaver’s motivation for dismissing Carnap who was anti-metaphysical. It can be argued, therefore, that reinstating metaphysics or overstating its importance is necessary for any argument against naturalism and/or atheism or conversely, for Theism, to get any traction. The fact remains, however, that propositions comprising a sound logical argument are dependent on real world experiences via the senses. The proposition “there is a cat” may speak to the fact that either i) one believes they have seen a cat in whatever space they find themselves in ii) one knows and can confirm that there is a cat in their vicinity iii) there is presently a cat within ones field of vision. While I grant that propositions can speak to entirely imaginary or, at least, hypothetical entities, all propositions rely on entities we have identified in our common tongue. Therefore, statements like “there is a cat” will always rely on content not necessarily entailed within a given proposition. There is still a question as to the context of such propositions and the preciseness of what one is trying to say.
Weaver’s Composite Argument Against Naturalism and Atheism, and Its Problems
With these preliminary concerns in our rearview, I can now turn to Weaver’s composite argument and provide a few avenues for the atheist to refute his argument.
W1 Since situationspf do not exist (“I will therefore be entitled to reject…the existence of situationsPF” (Weaver, 6).), situationsC exist.
W2 Given situationsC , classical logical consequence (CLC) is the case.
W3 From W2, necessitism is true.
W4 “If necessitism is true, then ontological naturalism is false.”
W5 “Necessitism is true.”
W6 “Therefore, ontological naturalism is false” (Weaver, 15).
W7 From W6, “Necessitism is true and modal properties are indispensable to our best physical theories.”
W8 If W7, “then there is a new phenomenon of coordination (NPC).”
W9 “Necessarily, (if there is an NPC, it has an explanation).”
W10 “Necessarily, [if possibly both (atheism is true and there is an NPC), then it is not possible that the NPC has an explanation]”
C “Therefore, atheism is false” (Weaver, 18).
Setting aside that Weaver assumes that suitably precisified situations (situationspf) cannot exist and the problems he would face if just one instance of such a situation does exist, there is a way to show that even on the assumption that just classically precisified situations (situationsC) exist, it doesn’t follow that CLC holds. Weaver seems to think that CLC follows from a schema concerning mere validity: “A deductive argument is valid, just in case, there is no situation in which the premises are true and the conclusion false” (Weaver, 4). I think it is straightforwardly obvious that a typical non sequitur already violates this schema. Consider the following:
P1 If it is cloudy outside, there is a chance of precipitation.
P2 It is cloudy outside.
C Therefore, the Yankee game will be postponed.
The first two premises are true perspectively. In New York City, at this present hour, it is partly cloudy outside and there is thus, a chance of precipitation. However, the conclusion is false because the New York Yankees are not even in Spring training and it is out of the norm for them to have a regular season home game in late January. The above argument can prove true given not only at least one extra premise, but also the fact that it is not winter but spring, and that the MLB regular season is underway. This goes a long way in showing that propositions are usually missing crucial content and are true given specified context. Perhaps, then, Weaver should provide a different schema to ground CLC.
Weaver, unfortunately, does not give an adequate account of what he means by situationspf and what such situations would look like. It is enough to reiterate that the existence of even one such situation takes him back to square one. This is aside from the fact that a rejection of pluralism entails a rejection of arguments operating outside of classical logic, e.g., Plantinga’s Modal Ontological Argument, which rests of the axioms of S5 modal logic. A thorough rejection of free logical systems would limit Theists to the domain of classical logic, which will prove unforgiving since nothing like God seems operative in the real world.
Weaver’s dependence on situationsC and CLC proves problematic and is one place for an atheist to focus on. Another avenue for an atheist to take is W4 and W5. Is the notion that ontological naturalism is false conditional on necessitism being true? I do not think Weaver established that this premise is true. Furthermore, aside from exploring whether these clauses have a conditional relationship, one can simply ask whether necessitism is true. The jury is still out on whether necessitism or contingentism is the case, and there may yet be a synthesis or a handful of alternative positions that challenge both. Given the current state of the debate, I am uncommitted to either position, but I am suspicious of anyone siding with one for sake of attempting to disprove a position they already assume is false, which, in Weaver’s case, are naturalism and atheism.
In plain language, the perspective of necessitists falls flat or appears to be saying something nonsensical. Williamson outlines where disagreement lies:
For instance, a contingentist typically holds that it is contingent that there is the Thames: there could have been no such river, and in those circumstances there would have been no Thames. By contrast, a necessitist typically holds that it is necessary that there is the Thames: there could have been no such river, but in those circumstances there would still have been the Thames, a non-river located nowhere that could have been a river located in England. Thus the contingentist will insist that necessarily if there is the Thames it is a river, while the necessitist allows at most that necessarily if the Thames is located somewhere it is a river.Williamson, T.. “Necessitism, Contingentism, and Plural Quantification.” Mind 119 (2010): 657-748. 9. Web.
Contingentists deny the necessity of the Thames, whether river or not. These identity discussions extend further when one considers people. Manuel Pérez Otero explores this and tries to synthesize these two opposing point of views (see Otero, Manuel Pérez. “Contingentism about Individuals and Higher-Order Necessitism.” Theoria: An International Journal for Theory, History and Foundations of Science, vol. 28, no. 3(78), 2013, pp. 393–406. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/23926328. Accessed 25 Jan. 2021.). Though Otero’s synthesis is tangential for our purposes, it shows that this binary Weaver thinks exists is one of his own making, essentially a false dichotomy. Given the issues necessitism presents for ordinary language, and the likelihood of one of its alternatives being true, it follows that necessitism is probably false. An exhaustive defense of a position I am not committed to is not at all required to show where Weaver has gone wrong.
This takes us to Weaver’s treatment of supervenience and his New Phenomenon of Coordination (NPC), which states:
Why is it that modal properties and notions enter the verisimilitudinous fundamental dynamical laws of our best and most empirically successful physical theories given that modal properties do not weakly supervene upon the physical or material? (or) How is it that the material world came to be ordered in such a way that it evolves in a manner that is best captured by modally laden physical theorizing or dynamical laws given that modal properties do not even weakly supervene upon the material and non-modal? (Weaver, 17)
If necessitism is probably false, then ontological naturalism still has a chance of being true. This is despite the fact that Weaver failed to show that the falsity of ontological naturalism is conditional on necessitism being true. A stronger route for him to have took is to argue that ontological naturalism is false iff necessitism is true because even if turns out that necessitism is true, ontological naturalism can also be true. Weaver has not established that they are mutually exclusive. Therefore, an atheist can feel no pressure at all when confronted with NPC. This is setting aside that Weaver appears to be undisturbed by the incongruity of our scientific and manifest images. One would think a reconciliation is required before proclaiming that the material world is organized via modally laden physical theories and dynamic laws that supervene, whether strongly or weakly, on the material world.
The primary issue with Weaver’s assessment is the assumption that all atheists must be committed to reductionist materialism or physicalism to be a consistent ontological naturalist. There are alternative naturalisms that easily circumvent Weaver’s NPC because such a naturalist would not be committed to any version of supervenience. As an example, this naturalist can hold, to put it as simply as possible, that scientific theories and models are merely representations. Therefore, the modality of scientific theories need not supervene on the material world at all. Given a representationalist account of scientific theories, perhaps something like a reverse supervenience is the case.
∎∀𝑥∀𝑦(∀𝐹 𝐹𝑥 ≡ 𝐹𝑦 ⟶ ∎∀R R𝑥 ≡ R𝑦 )
Necessarily for any entity x and for any entity y, [(if for any material property F, (x has F, just in case, y has F), then necessarily, for any representational property M, (x has M, just in case, y has M)].
Scientific theories and models are, in other words, more akin to impressionist paintings than a group of modally laden propositions. This is a more commonsense view in that a scientific model is a portrait of the real world. While there is a feedback between the model and the material world, in that theories have to be tested against reality, theories and models are not conceived in a vacuum. Real world observations impose the postulates of a theory or render a portrait that we call a model. Ptolemy misconstrued planetary orbits and attributed their motions to invisible spheres rather than the ellipses we are familiar with. He was not far off the mark, especially given that there is an intangible involved, namely gravity, but his impression was inexact. This is what a representationalist account of scientific theories would look like and whether something like reverse supervenience is necessary does no real harm to the account.
The last route atheists can take is in Weaver’s conflation of atheism and naturalism. Though I am sympathetic to the conflation, like Nielsen, who stated, “Naturalism, where consistent, is an atheism” (Nielsen, Kai. Naturalism and Religion. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 2001. 30. Print.), the same need not apply in vice versa. In other words, the following statement need not be the case: “atheism, where consistent, is a naturalism.” While I am also partial to that statement, even going as far as defending it in Philosophical Atheism: Counter Apologetics and Arguments For Atheism, that gods do not exist does not entail that no immaterial beings can exist. It could be the case that no iteration of god exists, but that ghosts do. Weaver’s conflation seems to rest on the assumption that naturalism is the antithesis of supernaturalism. Naturalism is also opposed to paranormal phenomena, so there can be defeaters of naturalism that are not also defeaters of atheism. In other words, a definitive proof of the paranormal does not debase the thesis that gods do not exist. A definitive proof of one’s great grandma roaming the estate does not imply that God or any other god undeniably exists. Nielsen’s statement implies only that a disproof of atheism is also a disproof of naturalism, but this does not work in the other direction.
Ultimately, in light of the composite argument above, one that I think is true to Weaver’s overall argument, fails to disprove ontological naturalism and atheism. There is far too much controversy in a number of places throughout his argument to regard it as convincing. The argument needs to be critically amended or entirely abandoned because in its present form, it does not meet its end. My rebuttal provides fertile ground for further exploration with respect to necessitism, contigentism, and any possible syntheses or alternatives, in addition to what is required to contradict naturalism and atheism. God, whether the idea Theist philosophers defend, or a more common concept tied to a particular religion, is still resolutely resigned to silence, hiddenness, and outright indifference. Therefore, Theists have their own onus that must go beyond even a successful argument against naturalism and/or atheism.
By R.N. Carmona
What follows is Alexander Pruss’ Argument For An Omniscient Being. While he does not exactly give his argument a ringing endorsement, admitting that he is skeptical of the first two premises, there are other problems that elude him and any theist who believes that omniscience is possible. Pruss formulates the argument as follows:
1. The analytic/synthetic distinction between truths is the same as the a priori / a posteriori distinction.
2. The analytic/synthetic distinction between truths makes sense.
3. If 1 and 2, then every truth is knowable.
4. So, every truth is knowable. (1–3)
5. If every truth is knowable, then every truth is known.
6. So, every truth is known. (4–5)
7. If every truth is known, there is an omniscient being.
8. So, there is an omniscient being. (6–7)Pruss, Alexander. “An odd argument for an omniscient being”. Alexander Pruss Blog. 2 Nov 2020. Web.
In my new book “The Definitive Case Against Christianity: Life After The Death Of God,” I state the following:
God’s belief in propositions has to change in accordance with migrating facts. While it is true that the Sun is currently one astronomical unit away, that will not always be the case. At every moment when the Sun begins to expand during its Red Giant phase, the distance between the Earth and the Sun will gradually decrease until the Sun ultimately ends all life on our planet, if not disintegrating it entirely. At each moment, it will be incumbent on God to update his knowledge by changing his prior beliefs concerning the distance between these two bodies. It is prerequisite for facts to be fixed in order for God to be immutable. Since facts are not fixed, his beliefs and corresponding propositions about any given state of affairs have to change — otherwise he fails to be omniscient. (193)
A Christian might assert that there is a simple solution to the issue I have raised: God is also omnipresent. The issue with this objection is that God’s perspectives would be in direct contradiction with one another and so, from the perspective of other sentient beings, he would regard two logically contradictory propositions as true. From our perspective, he would believe in a truth and a lie, namely that from Earth, there is a supernova two million lightyears away, but in Andromeda, there is no longer a supernova to speak of. In other words, since the light from this event took two million years to reach humans on Earth, humans are just now learning of this supernova in Andromeda whereas an intelligent species on a planet relatively near to the event in Andromeda would report no supernova at that location. Perhaps it happened long before they emerged or before they were advanced enough to observe, record, and describe such an event. The fact remains that their present does not feature this supernova event while ours does.
Another fun example from theoretical physics involves watching someone falling into a black hole. The following is a summary of the relativistic experiences the observer and the faller would have:
1. The light coming from the person gets redshifted; they’ll start to take on a redder hue and then, eventually, will require infrared, microwave, and then radio “vision” to see.
2. The speed at which they appear to fall in will get asymptotically slow; they will appear to fall in towards the event horizon at a slower and slower speed, never quite reaching it.
3. The amount of light coming from them gets less and less. In addition to getting redder, they also will appear dimmer, even if they emit their own source of light!
4. The person falling in notices no difference in how time passes or how light appears to them. They would continue to fall in to the black hole and cross the event horizon as though nothing happened.“Falling Into a Black Hole Sucks!”. ScienceBlogs. 20 Nov 2009. Web.
God’s omnipresence, therefore, fails to solve the issue because in order for him to have all possible perspectives, he would have to hold contradictory propositions on pretty much any and all events in our universe. He would have our perspective in the Milky Way as well as the point of view of the Andromeda galaxy’s civilization. He would also have the perspectives of the observer and the faller in our black hole example. The glaring issue is that he would have these perspectives at the same time and in the same respect, thus resulting in contradictions. Perhaps one can still find a way to try and circumvent these issues.
Given the idea that a day is as a thousand years and vice versa for God (2 Peter 3:8), if he, for sake of argument, experiences time-laden events in God-days (equivalent to one human millennium) or even all at once, God would make entirely different claims from the ones we believe to be knowable. In other words, while we are discussing here and now, before and after, duration, and the such, God would state something like the following: “all of the people, places, events, etc. that existed from the first century through the tenth century CE existed simultaneously.” For us, this is unlike propositions we believe are knowable, indeed nonsensical. God, therefore, being a timeless being cannot know anything about time-laden truths. It would be incumbent on him to not be timeless, but then, he is immediately confronted with the relativity of experience in the physical universe.
More importantly, 5 is debatable despite Fitch’s Knowability Paradox. Pruss states: “The argument for 5 is the famous knowability paradox: If p is an unknown truth, then that p is an unknown truth is a truth that cannot be known (for if someone know that p is an unknown truth, then they would thereby know that p is a truth, and then it wouldn’t be an unknown truth, and no one can’t know what isn’t so)” (Ibid.). The tendency, however, to leap from the possibility of knowing every truth to someone knowing every truth is dubious. It is similar to the leap rooted in Anselm: conceivability implies possibility. Worse still is that Pruss leaps from possibility to actuality. One should not draw ontological conclusions on the basis of logical considerations.
Pruss would appreciate an example from mathematics, namely that mathematicians work with infinity in their equations and even think of it as a real, tangible object in the universe. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a physical correlate to infinity. Pradeep Mutalik, writing for Quanta Magazine, explains:
While “most physicists and mathematicians have become so enamored with infinity that they rarely question it,” Tegmark writes, infinity is just “an extremely convenient approximation for which we haven’t discovered convenient alternatives.” Tegmark believes that we need to discover the infinity-free equations describing the true laws of physics.Mutalik, Pradeep. “The Infinity Puzzle”. Quanta Magazine. 16 Jun 2016. Web.
With this in mind, one can see that though mathematicians logically consider and defend the concept of infinity, one should proceed with caution in terms of stipulating that reality features anything like this concept. It follows then, that just because all truths are potentially knowable, there does not already exist a being that knows all things. Aside from the problem resulting from the relativity of truth, stemming from the relativity of space-time especially as one approaches the speed of light, there is this unjustified assumption that possibility implies actuality. In the main, possibility does not necessarily entail probability, the latter of which having to be established before concluding that something exists. Given these brief objections, one should maintain that there is no omniscient being.
Ultimately, a lot more can be said. All humans can really say about knowledge is what they experience with respect to acquiring it. As such, we would be wise to recall that we acquire knowledge first by way of awareness and conscious focus on what it is we are inquiring about. A truly omniscient being, which would be difficult to distinguish from a being who knows all things except how to play billiards or count to infinity (the conclusion of my Argument From Vagueness (see The Definitive Case Against Christianity, 194), would first and foremost have to be perfectly aware and focused for all of eternity. If this being loses focus at any point, myriad truths would have changed, progressing toward inevitable obsolescence, and new truths, that are not all related to the old truths, would have emerged. This being would therefore, have lost its claim to omniscience. This is setting aside that humans can apprehend truths intuitively, without having dedicated concentrated inquiry into a matter. Other sentient beings could have this capacity as well. In any case, the likelihood that an omniscient being exists is practically zero.
By R.N. Carmona
The problem, as commonly framed, is that the truth of P1 is substantiated by a P2, which is then substantiated by a P3. The thought is that this goes on forever. The Infinite Regress problem resulted in foundationalism, which was motivated by the pursuit of certainty. Ross Cameron frames the problem as follows:
An infinite regress is a series of appropriately related elements with a first member but no last member, where each element leads to or generates the next in some sense. An infinite regress argument is an argument that makes appeal to an infinite regress. Usually such arguments take the form of objections to a theory, with the fact that the theory implies an infinite regress being taken to be objectionable.Cameron, Ross. “Infinite Regress Arguments”. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2018. Web.
The Infinite Regress Problem is therefore, not much of a problem unless a given interlocutor decides that it is. Such an interlocutor usually makes that decision due to prejudice, an unabashed bias for their own conclusion or perspective while in other cases, the individual disagrees with an alternative explanation so much that they go out of their way to express skepticism toward this explanation to an extent that they never applied to their own. In other words, someone who is skeptical of Correspondence Theory will go as far as questioning reality, e.g. Descartes’ Evil Demon, or questioning the very existence of the person they are debating, e.g., “how do you know you’re not a brain in a vat?” This is all while ignoring that if such an evil demon is distorting reality on a whim, they too are subject to its deception and that if the person they are debating is a brain in a vat, it is far likelier that they themselves are in the same predicament.
The issue with any Infinite Regress argument is that the radical skeptic has glossed over basics in philosophy. For the skeptic’s argument to work, the onus is on him to find a premise containing necessary and sufficient conditions in relation to the premise he is skeptical of. Put another way, if I say that Correspondence Theory says nothing other than the fact that the proposition “it is snowing” holds true if, in fact, it is snowing, the interlocutor is tasked with finding a premise on which the truth of the proposition “it is snowing” rests. The fact that it is snowing is a distinct reality from my proposition, especially because I can make that claim, for whatever reason, even when it is not the case that it is snowing. I could either be off my rocker or lying, but any proposition can be proposed even when what informs the proposition is not the case. Andrew Brennan puts it this way:
The standard theory makes use of the fact that in classical logic, the truth-function “p ⊃ q” (“If p, q”) is false only when p is true and q is false. The relation between “p” and “q” in this case is often referred to as material implication. On this account of “if p, q”, if the conditional “p ⊃ q” is true, and p holds, then q also holds; likewise if q fails to be true, then p must also fail of truth (if the conditional as a whole is to be true). The standard theory thus claims that when the conditional “p ⊃ q” is true the truth of the consequent, “q”, is necessary for the truth of the antecedent, “p”, and the truth of the antecedent is in turn sufficient for the truth of the consequentBrennan, Andrew. “Necessary and Sufficient Conditions”. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2017. Web.
If Brennan is correct, then an Infinite Regress is not, in fact, an issue no matter how much a disingenuous interlocutor says it is. An Infinite Regress is nothing more than a rebranded Slippery Slope, the termination of which is decided by a premise containing either a viable truth maker or that corresponds to reality in a noncontroversial way. Furthermore, it would be a premise that has no conditional relationship to some other premise. This premise q would not require a premise r on which the necessity of its truth is grounded. It is simply one proposition that is established by some external reality or lines of evidence that make its truth more likelier than not. This is what is meant by propositions like “evolution is true.” This conclusion is supported by lines of scientific evidence strongly suggesting that the proposition is probable. Given the advent of fallibism, what epistemologists look for are propositions that are highly probably true. They are no longer in the business of certainty. So while any true proposition has a small, usually negligible, chance of being false, one could achieve a high degree of certainty in exactly those propositions that are highly likely to be true.
Recall that to terminate a Slippery Slope, it is necessary to show that a proposed consequence will not end up being the case if a given action is taken. Opponents of same-sex unions would often say things like, “what’s next!? people marrying their dogs!?” It was easily shown that their concerns were non sequitur and thus, in similar fashion, one could do away with an Infinite Regress argument by establishing that the interlocutor has failed to find a premise r on which the truth of q rests. The onus is heavy because he is tasked with finding a premise that is necessary and sufficient in relation to the truth of q. If he cannot do so, he has admitted that the regress terminates at q and accepts justification, however begrudgingly, for why this is the case.
In general, the issue at the heart of any Infinite Regress argument is the fact that people, especially non-philosophers, tend to be disingenuous. They will concoct some ridiculous standard for any point of view that disagrees with theirs while failing to scrutinize their own views in accordance with that standard. There is no Infinite Regress. In the end, what remains is disagreement, to some degree of strength, with the justification(s) underlying certain beliefs. If, for example, someone claims that they know we are all brains in vats because a being outside of our reality told them this, then it is within my right for me to inquire about this being. Moreover, it is within my right to question this person’s sanity or at the very least, their sobriety. If this revelation was received while this person was drunk or high on a hallucinogen, then it is far likelier that their account is false. The same applies if this person has been diagnosed with a mental illness that makes hallucinations a frequent occurrence for him.
Ultimately, the nature of dialogue, especially on social media, has revealed the basest human fault: the propensity to be disingenuous. Everyone who has a bias distorts facts, omits evidence to the contrary, employs radical skepticism, and sets up an Infinite Regress problem as the standard for the opposition to reach. With respect to the latter, it is a standard that their own views have not met, despite the disingenuous interlocutor’s assertions. The Infinite Regress Problem is not a problem, but rather an argument offered by someone bent on remaining obstinately unconvinced by a position or conclusion that rubs them the wrong way. These arguments are no different from Slippery Slope arguments and terminate at the point in where you locate a proposition that is not contingent on another. This issue no longer concerns epistemologists and should be of no concern to any student of philosophy.
By R.N. Carmona
“A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.” — Francis Bacon
Even when philosophy was considered the handmaiden of theology, this statement was patently false. One need only consider the methods of philosophy to disabuse oneself of the notion that depth in philosophy convinces one that religious claims are true or more accurately, that Christian claims are true. Philosophy, first and foremost, is a pre-Christian enterprise. It may not appear that way because works that were not palatable to Christian sentiments were destroyed. Carlo Rovelli outlines this succinctly:
I often think that the loss of the works of Democritus in their entirety is the greatest intellectual tragedy to ensue from the collapse of the old classical civilization…We have been left with all of Aristotle, by way of which Western thought reconstructed itself, and nothing of Democritus. Perhaps if all the works of Democritus had survived, and nothing of Aristotle’s, the intellectual history of our civilization would have been better … But centuries dominated by monotheism have not permitted the survival of Democritus’s naturalism. The closure of the ancient schools such as those of Athens and Alexandria, and the destruction of all the texts not in accordance with Christian ideas was vast and systematic, at the time of the brutal antipagan repression following from the edicts of Emperor Theodisius, which in 390-391 declared that Christianity was to be the only and obligatory religion of the empire. Plato and Aristotle, pagans who believed in the immortality of the soul or in the existence of a Prime Mover, could be tolerated by a triumphant Christianity. Not Democritus.Rovelli, Carlo. Reality is Not What it Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity. New York: Riverhead, 2018. 32-33. Print.
The suppression of philosophical ideas that do not blend well with Christianity persists today, albeit in a different form. Since Christianity does not have the sociopolitical power it once had, these tendencies are confined to Christian publications, institutions, and of course, churches. What one encounters in all of these areas is the Christian propensity to overstate philosophical schools or theories that appear to support Christian claims coupled with a disingenuous presentation or outright censorship of competing thought. This is how one gets online Christians, with little to no college experience, professing an immoveable foundationalism, usually stemming from washed up philosophers turned theologians or apologists, like Paul Moser and Alvin Plantinga. Given the suppression of the competition, Christians like this often do not realize how thoroughly retrograde their assertions are. Moser’s opponents recognized, over three decades ago, that foundationalism was out of fashion and that Moser’s iteration was flawed (e.g., Laurence Bonjour, Kevin Possin, Mark Timmons). That is more true today than it was then. Then this sort of Christian will arrogantly claim that Moser’s arguments against the competition were ironclad all while ignoring that in order for foundationalism to remain out of fashion, his arguments must have been defeated by other philosophers.
Wesley Wildman, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Theology, and Ethics at Boston University, states:
The kind of epistemic foundationalism that has prevailed in most modern Western philosophy has now mostly collapsed. Its artless insistence on certainty in the foundations of knowledge proved unsuitable even for mathematics and natural sciences, and it was a particularly inapt standard for big-question philosophy.Wildman, Wesley J. Religious Philosophy as Multidisciplinary Comparative Inquiry: Envisioning a Future For The Philosophy of Religion. State University of New York Press. Albany, NY. 2010. 11. Print.
He adds that since Peirce, Dewey, and later, Quine, a thorough rejection of foundationalism was followed by a fallibilist epistemological framework. This is how philosophy proceeds in the modern day. The history of philosophy should be enough to disabuse such Christians of their tendency to think philosophy was and still is beholden to theology. Unfortunately, it does not suffice. In that same vein, the history of philosophy ought to remind them of the origin of science, in the works of natural philosophers like Boyle, Galileo, Harvey, Kepler, and Newton. Perhaps that would make them more capable of taking C.S. Peirce’s timeless advice:
What I would recommend is that every person who wishes to form an opinion concerning fundamental problems, should first of all make a complete survey of human knowledge, should take note of all the valuable ideas in each branch of science, should observe in just what respect each has been successful and where it has failed, in order that in the light of the thorough acquaintance so attained of the available materials for a philosophical theory and of the nature and strength of each, he may proceed to the study of what the problem of philosophy consists in, and of the proper way of solving it.Charles Sanders Peirce (1891. “The Architecture of Theories”, The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings (1867-1893). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1992. 292. Print.
There is a sense in which philosophy underpins every other discipline and as such, breadth in philosophy is not only a knowledge of philosophy of language, mind, religion, science, and time, in addition to epistemology, ethics, metaphysics, ontology, and so on, but also a knowledge of areas of inquiry that make use of philosophical methodology, particularly logic, reasoning, and the clarification of important distinctions. Furthermore, if the aim of an enterprise is to locate the truth of a matter, then this should be of interest to anyone who purports to have a real enthusiasm for philosophy. To ignore the conclusions of other disciplines is to behave in a patently unphilosophical manner, but I digress.
Wildman is perhaps one of the more important thinkers in the philosophy of religion because he is at the forefront of defining how thinkers in his field will proceed. He recognizes already, unlike Christian theologians and philosophers, that philosophy of religion, as well as philosophy in general, have been divorced from Christianity and apologetics. Philosophers of religion are moving away from Christianized treatments of the issues they discuss, as well as the search for a personal, anthropomorphic deity. In defining the prominent theological traditions, Wildman makes it abundantly clear that the central arguments that got these traditions started, as Kant showed, do not prove the existence of God. This applies most especially to any variant of the Cosmological Argument.
He says, for instance, of the ontotheological tradition that if the entire tradition were based on the ontological argument, “most philosophers would probably consign it to the dustbin of history — and not without reason, despite the ballooning contemporary literature on the subject” (Ibid., 251). He goes on to say that the tradition is far broader and thrives separately from the ontological argument, specifically in that it does not rely on the argument’s anthropomorphic thinking. Similarly, of the cosmotheological tradition, Wildman expresses frustration resulting from the stubborn refusal to field nontheistic arguments. He adds: “Many religious philosophers nowadays recognize that the cosmotheological approach does not produce results that are immediately applicable to the religious beliefs of living theistic religions” (Ibid., 258). Therefore, this makes the tradition useful for nontheistic approaches as well. Wildman makes similar observations as it pertains to the physicotheological, pyschotheological, axiotheological, and other traditions he discusses.
Philosophers of religion are taking Nielsen’s advice, indeed their only recourse at this point after the obstinate insistence on the part of Christians to keep repeating these arguments as though they have yet to encounter any defeaters. This is precisely my gripe with Christians on social media. They have been so taken by Bacon’s statement that they think there is truth to it and that moreover, depth and breadth are equivalent. Further still, depth in a particular author that convinces you is not depth in philosophy. Even if a Christian can name ten philosophers that align with their views, they are doing nothing but indulging their confirmation bias and speaking to the fact that since roughly 30 percent of the world population is Christian, it is then no surprise that a good percentage of scholars harbor Christian sentiments or are sympathetic to Christianity. With respect to the arguments underlying the traditions Wildman discusses, Nielsen states:
It is a waste of time to rehearse arguments about the proofs or evidences for God or immortality. There are no grounds—or at least no such grounds—for belief in God or belief that God exists and/or that we are immortal. Hume and Kant (perhaps with a little rational reconstruction from philosophers like J.L. Mackie and Wallace Matson) pretty much settled that. Such matters have been thoroughly thrashed out and there is no point of raking over the dead coals. Philosophers who return to them are being thoroughly retrograde.Nielsen, Kai. Naturalism and Religion. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 2001. 399. Print.
Depth and breadth in philosophy would incline a man’s mind to a wide range of possibilities. Atheism and theism are not the only options on the table. Depth and breadth would also disabuse any would-be philosopher of the tendency to think in binaries. When philosophers speak of distinctions, there are not always two choices on offer. Sometimes what muddles the pursuit of proper distinctions is the fact that there are several options to consider. This is often lost on Christians, especially the less initiated who spend their time engaging in sophistry on social media. If that were not the case, they would realize, without much in the way of effort, that the notion of a personal being is utterly at odds with a deity who sparks the universe to then supervise its evolution via physical laws and eventually, evolutionary drivers that finally and ultimately result in his desired creative end: humankind. The notion is incongruous with the virtually instantaneous creation described in Genesis. That is setting aside that the fine-tuning of the parameters just right for life is owed to the gradual freezing and entropy of the universe. There is no indication that the parameters were decided from the start and as such, the idea of a silent creator of this sort is indistinguishable from the conclusion that the universe simply does not require a creator.
Ultimately, breadth and depth in philosophy disabuses one’s mind of binaries. Belief in a personal god or the lack thereof are not the only options on offer. The fact that I identify as an atheist is a consequence of what the evidence seems to dictate. Moreover, the ad hoc inclusion of an agent, especially as it pertains to causation, always struck me as suspicious. That is, until I realized that causation and teleology have long diverged. Therefore, if a thing or an event or an entire universe can be explained without recourse to an agent of any kind, it is unnecessary to attach such an agent to a self-contained and consistent explanation. It is precisely because I realize that the inclusion of a god in any mode of explanation is simply inadvisable that I identify as an atheist. However, since my mind is free of binaries and confirmation bias and other cognitive shortcomings that will hinder anyone from finding the truth of a matter, I am, as I have always been, open to being wrong. Like Wildman though, I realize that if there is a hand behind the curtain, it is unlike anything that most modern religions describe and furthermore, it may be vastly inappropriate to tarnish this being with the monicker of god. Perhaps the concept is so invariably tied to the Abrahamic monotheisms, that there is no real way to isolate the concept. This would imply that philosophers of religion are in pursuit of a sufficiently advanced alien race that may be simulating a universe for purposes of understanding philosophical big-questions like volition in higher sentient beings, consciousness, universals, mathematics, and so on. Or perhaps they are perpetually in pursuit of themselves, the proverbial cat spinning after its own tail.
So that there’s no confusion, Steven at Hellenistic Christendom is referring to a post on my Tumblr blog titled An Open Letter to Christians. The letter is admittedly polemic, especially given that I was in the process of revisiting (for lack of a better word) Christian bloggers who I have had debates and discussions with in the past. The Christians who have become even more repulsive, professing things that are shocking even for them, are the individuals the letter was mostly intended for.
In discussions and debates, or in my more general rhetoric, I employ two similar, albeit subtly different, tools meant to end a discussion. The one is a tool meant to tell a given opponent that I have no respect for them personally. To put it mildly, it’s my way of telling them to shove off because I don’t feel the individual is treating me, first and foremost, like a human being. An apotheosis would be most Trump supporters. While I still try to reason with some of them because I recognize they deal with cognitive dissonance borne from disenfranchisement (i.e., they support Trump because, to their mind, it’s the same as supporting the Republican Party; otherwise, there’s no longer a Party for them to belong to), the lot of them don’t see me as a human being and by their own admission, would rather see me dead. There’s no use in having a discussion with anyone who isn’t convinced of one’s basic humanity.
The letter was more so designed to be a definitive end to any discussion or debate with those kind of Christians and it was successful given that none of the individuals I had in mind came forward to respond. Another tool I employ may seem identical, but it is more so intended as a sort of non-fallacious Courtier’s Reply. As Steven can attest, one gets frustrated speaking to someone else who isn’t on the same level, which is to say, I get frustrated speaking to someone who is either an ultracrepidarian or someone who has succumbed to the Dunning-Kruger effect and as such, doesn’t know as much as they think they do about the topic(s) in question. Steven briefly mentioned debates on evolution and creationism; I rarely come across a creationist that deserves intellectual respect and because of that, I often admonish them to study evolution more in-depth. Even when they have a perfunctory grasp of an evolutionary concept, like speciation, they quickly show that they’re not as versed on the topic as they claim to be, conflating or even failing to see the differences between sympatric and allopatric speciation, for instance.
So while I do accept Steven’s apology, I feel like an apology of my own is in order. I apologize because the latter tool ran the risk of knocking the wind out of your sails. Setting aside that you peered over the shoulders of giants, it was unfair to level accusations of intellectual dishonesty, pretense, and hollow thought, no matter how accurate they might have been. The accusations could have resulted in a loss of intellectual interest and curiosity; I’m glad that only confidence was lost for a time. I wouldn’t want to be responsible from having further discouraged you from studying already dismaying disciplines. Philosophy and science are not easily apprehended, as you well know and as evidenced by how esoteric each discipline has become, largely relegated to the confines of the ivory towers of academia.
Otherwise, you have nothing to apologize for. Discussions like these don’t persist for our (mine and yours) benefit. They persist for the benefit of the audience. Given this, whenever I do decide to have such discussions or debates, despite being a post-theist, the hope is that my opponent is an intellectual equal, give or take. It is of no benefit to the audience if there’s a intellectual skew, so to speak. It is my desire, given that anyone is to decide between an array of positions, that each position be represented charitably and accurately. Because of this, in participating in a discussion or debate in where one is at an intellectual (dis)advantage, one is robbing the audience of an accurate and holistic rendering of a given position(s). This is why so many people reject not the position in question, but a misrepresentation of said position, e.g., feminism.
Despite your youth at the time, you didn’t respond with your own surmises. I should have appreciated that more at the time. At the very least, you turned to people you considered authorities on the matter, so even if you couldn’t accurately and holistically represent a given position, you gave the audience a path to follow. Some paths, though dead-ends, are still worth taking if only because they have become undeservedly popular, e.g., mainstream evidential apologetics. Other paths, even if erroneous, are worth taking because I still wholeheartedly believe that the best response to a flawed path comes from someone who walked it. This is why I often start a discussion or debate with a Christian by telling them that I believed as they did; I stood where they stood. So the question I want to stick with them is: why am I now standing over here?
I stand here because I don’t think the Christian system succeeds. This is when some readers would scoff. “Christianity has convinced some one-fourth of the world’s population! How dare he say it’s not successful!?” To which I would say that it takes a depraved Western mind to equate popularity with success. Never mind that Islam is more “successful.”
Look to your brother! Steven has the right idea. Christianity should extend as an overarching philosophy, a fact recognized by Patristic thinkers like Irenaeus, Augustine, Origen, etc. If ever there were a “true” religion, it would have to make sense of reality and experience in toto and for everyone. In this (!), I do not think Christianity is successful.
With no intentions of scaring Steven, he finds himself at a particular place in my own journey that I consider the turning point. For me, it was shortly thereafter when I realized, Christianity is false. It’s not a true religion or philosophy; it is an inadequate system.
To keep this response brief and on topic, one of the reasons I came to this realization is because Christianity doesn’t succeed at logically explaining, defending against, and/or justifying suffering and evil. Before I proceed, it is admirable that Steven is doing what a lot of Christians don’t: leaning on “The Word of God.” Though it isn’t uncommon for a Christian to find comfort in the Bible, some so-called Christians act as though the Bible is beneath them! They would much rather rely on personal insults or less egregiously, on scholarly input devoid of any biblical exegesis, let alone “sound” doctrine. So they end up pursuing what they think is a robust philosophical explanation, but don’t stop to consider whether that explanation is theologically consistent.
The Problem of Gratuitous Suffering and Evil
I take issue with Steven’s idea of “truth that is true for them.” It has the particularly putrid scent of epistemic subjectivism. While I don’t deny that perspectives are important, I wouldn’t say that perspectivism, Nietzschean or otherwise, is equivalent to subjectivism. Although I don’t see Nietzsche as saying that each perspective is as true as the next, even if he did alluded to such a conclusion, I would only agree that each perspective seems as true as the next. Nietzsche, however, isn’t alluding to such a conclusion, let alone drawing that conclusion. So I can understand, given the story of Job, how someone might come to the conclusion that I don’t have the full story. It is, after all, how things seem from Steven’s perspective. I can also understand why Steven would say the following:
The full picture, then, is contained somewhere between the lessons established with the anxieties of the Old Testament man, the judgement of God (“Wail, for the day of the Lord is near,” Isaiah 13:6), the coming of the New Covenant and finally the death and redemptive execution of Jesus’ resurrection. Surely there must be some answer from the Son of God whom has conquered death.
This is where it is once again useful to remind Steven, along with everyone following this discussion, that I walked the Christian path. The story of Job represents not just the anxiety of Old Testament men, men who lived under the old covenant; it also represents the optimism of every worshipper of the Judeo-Christian god from the Old to the New Testament and beyond. God is not just a consuming fire; he is also merciful. The optimism expressed in Job is the optimism modern Christians express as well: “God’s grace and abundance will arrive! He will have mercy. This is just a trial, a tribulation. It means something, it is for something!”
In fact, all of the Sunday School stories are meant to give children a cohesive narrative: “God is like any caring parent. His punishments can be harsh, but even his punishments are informed by his love.” Job’s story ends with God restoring Job’s fortunes: he gave him twice as many friends, ten children (seven sons and three daughters), 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, and so on. Likewise, Jonah survives in the belly of a large fish and is eventually released after a repentant prayer. God floods the world save Noah, his family, and two to seven of each kind of animal. All of these are stories borne of, as Steven alluded to, “childish” optimism. Moreover, they are stories intended to instill trust in god.
These stories are taught in Sunday school for two reasons, one far more insidious than the other: 1) they are allusive to the archetype of Jesus’ redemptive sacrifice on the cross in that god’s wrath during the old covenant is supplanted by his grace via the salvation one can find in Jesus Christ, the advent of the new covenant; 2) it is not so much an instillation of trust in god, but rather what I’ll call first indoctrination. First indoctrination is much harder to instill in an older convert; that is perhaps one reason why it was easier for me, a convert at 18-years-old, to pull away from Christianity. From what I gather, it is much more difficult for a lifelong Christian to even question Christianity, let alone renounce it. First indoctrination is, as many atheists have pointed out, tantamount to the psychology of abuse: “even if god hurts you, it is for your own good; never forget that he loves you no matter what!” Even if god sees fit to make you orphaned, homeless, infertile, sterile, diseased, or what have you, it is for a purpose and, even if you lose sight of the fact and can’t explain why this has happened to you, he loves you.
This is precisely the mentality I had when my relationship with my relatives became strained, when at 19-years-old, I was kicked out of my house. I was homeless for four years and I remember my resolute determination: there’s a reason for this! God still loves me! I’ll make it out of this! Yet my making it out found no better explanation in Christianity than it did in naturalism.
The key was to give myself and the people who supported me credit rather than “give God all the glory.” No! It’s not that god put a certain drive in me, a drive that has made me the kind of person that doesn’t like to lose and that certainly doesn’t quit. It’s not that he put supportive people around me. Rather, given multifarious facts relating to me, my upbringing, what I’ve been exposed to, my genetics, my neurophysiology, and the upbringings, exposures, etc. of them who supported me, I found a way out of homelessness. It’s the proverbial Spanish Pentecostal tale that goes around: “Woe is me! I’m stranded in the ocean! From where does my help come from! It comes from God!” Then God sent a boat. And you said, “no, I will wait on the Lord!” Then God sent a ship. And you said, “no I will wait on the Lord!” Then God sent a helicopter. And you said, “no, I will wait on the Lord!” Then you drowned because you didn’t see that God uses people to bless you!
As Steven alluded to, “God’s hiddenness puts one in a state of ‘existential vertigo.'” That is when one ought to sit still and come to realization that god is not hidden, but rather replaced. Perhaps Christianity has suffered from a base bifurcation: the notion that there’s a scapegoat, a vessel for god’s good use. If there be any value in the Sunday School stories and moreover, in the story and ministry of Jesus, it is perhaps in the realization that redemptive salvation, if indeed you require such a thing, is not in some outside celestial figure, but rather in you. God and man are concomitant in you. So perhaps it’s not so much that man created god in his own image, but that god is the apotheosis of man and that Christianity is thus better apprehended as a full revelation of man himself. The light at the end of the tunnel has nothing at all to do with some invisible figure pushing you along, but rather in you finding it within yourself to keep walking, or even crawling on bloodied knees and knuckles, until the end is reached. Yet why do we make so much of our own suffering?! Other people have it much worse. Furthermore, there are other religious philosophies that have succeeded where Christianity doesn’t, e.g., Buddhism. That’s another reason why I renounced Christianity, but I digress.
The Problem of Gratuitous Suffering and Evil requires a pivot. One must imagine oneself as a Christian, first and foremost. You must step into the Christian’s shoes, adopt the Christian position. You have to commit to the proposition that God exists and that there is an undeniable and observable degree of suffering and evil, both moral (human-driven) and natural (not human-driven) in the world. As a Christian interested in the project of systematizing reality, the onus is on you to reconcile these two propositions. How can a perfectly moral, good god allow so much suffering and evil? As Steven mentioned, there are several defenses and justifications. Unfortunately, none are satisfactory.
A Summary of Defenses and Theodicies
Because my interest is not only to inform, but to inform well, I will take it upon myself to go over two theodicies that are commonly offered. I will discuss the Free Will Theodicy and the Best of All Possible Worlds Theodicy. Then, I will circle back around to Steven’s “Full Story Theodicy,” which Michael Martin coined the “Ultimate Harmony Theodicy.” It is a theodicy based on optimism, on the notion that there’s a good reason for all of the suffering and evil we observe in the world, no matter how gratuitous.
The Free Will Theodicy
Though Alvin Plantinga is often, albeit wrongly, credited for this theodicy, this theodicy goes back to Irenaeus. It was further developed by John Hick, a twentieth century philosopher of religion. Both Irenaeus and Hick systematized human (Libertarian) free will.1 Arguably, there’s an inconsistency in their view of free will because they don’t focus on the origin of the human propensity for evil, i.e., original sin. If one were interested in a systematic reconciliation of the Original Sin Theodicy and Hick’s theodicy, it would be a rather simple task. The only issue would be in assuming that God allowed the Fall because he wanted human beings to ascend to moral perfection. He wanted to give us a choice and of course, a choice isn’t real unless there are alternatives. You can choose to lead an immoral life, to live in sin, or you can, per the Old Testament, keep God’s commandments or, per the New Testament, confess your sins and accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. This sort of theodicy would run into exegetical issues, however. Human beings do not, on their own will, ascend to moral perfection. According to Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”
Moral perfection or perhaps better put, holiness, isn’t a summit one reaches; it is more like, especially given allusions in the Bible (e.g. Colossians 3), a garment that you are adorned with. So Irenaeus and Hicks failed at this systematization because they forgot that “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). As a person driven by great personal pride, I can see the allure of Irenaeus and Hicks’ point of view; we are essentially Sisyphus, but we succeed at pushing the boulder to the summit! It is, however, not a Christian point of view.
Plantinga, however, does extend the Free Will Theodicy in a way that my open letter alluded to. One proposition he holds is “God is omniscient, omnipotent, and morally perfect; God has created the world; all evil in the world is [the result of free actions by created creatures]; and there is no possible world God could have created that contains a better balance of [moral good and evil].”2 So, according to Plantinga, natural evil is a type of moral evil in that Satan and his demons are responsible for it. It’s worth repeating what I said in my open letter should suffice:
The appeal to spiritual entities has an evidential problem that I’ll set aside, i.e. they already have trouble proving their god exists, but now they’re talking about other spiritual entities that they can’t prove exist. What’s important here is that, unlike their god, these malignant entities are not omnipotent. If their power is finite compared to that of their god’s, the villains in this story would never win. So either the hero isn’t all-powerful or the hero is indifferent. A bystander who stands idly by when someone needs help, given that they’re human, might not help for fear of their own safety. God, on the other hand, would not be susceptible to bystander effect! An eternal, omnipotent being can’t possibly fear for his safety, so why does your god stand idly by when children suffer!?
Per Plantinga, Hurricane Katrina wasn’t caused by God. It was caused by Satan or a very powerful demon(s). Setting aside the dubious notion that New Orleans is filled with concupiscent people who deserved to be made examples of, there were well-meaning Christians and children in New Orleans. God is omnipotent, but Satan and his generals are not. So even if I granted that Satan himself or some powerful demon(s) created a destructive hurricane and aimed it at Florida and Louisiana, with every intent of bringing New Orleans to its knees, there is still the free will of God to contend with! Why did the omnipotent hero stand idly by as less powerful villains enacted their evil plot? Plantinga’s Free Will Theodicy doesn’t explain evil and suffering because God’s will is infinitely more powerful than mine, yours, Satan’s, and any demon’s. So what gives?
We come full circle to Hicks. Perhaps Katrina was allowed to help us on our moral journey. Yet given what the Bible says, we have no such moral journey. Once we repent, we are made clean by Jesus’ blood. We don’t have to do the work of cleansing ourselves. Given this doctrinal truth, there’s no sense in which Katrina or any other catastrophe was intended to strengthen our moral fiber. Tragedies aren’t intended to test us, to call us to action. Perhaps this is why so many Christians are content with “thoughts and prayers”! There isn’t much we can do. All is in God’s hands.
Best of All Possible Worlds Theodicy
Perhaps this is why Plantinga alludes to the Leibnizian Best of All Possible Worlds Theodicy: “there is no possible world God could have created that contains a better balance of [moral good and evil].” Plantinga falls into a trap that Leibniz was well-aware of:
Leibniz was aware of this argument denying God’s obligation to create the best, but he was firmly committed to rejecting it, in virtue of a central principle of his philosophical system, the Principle of Sufficient Reason. According to the Principle of Sufficient Reason, for any state of affairs, there must be a sufficient reason that explains why that state of affairs and not some other state of affairs obtains. When it comes to our world, then, there must be some reason that explains why it, and not some other world, obtains. But there can be no such reason if it is the case that the goodness of worlds increases ad infinitum. Leibniz therefore concluded that there can be no infinite continuum of worlds.3
Given the Principle of Sufficient Reason, a Christian must reconcile the purported existence of a perfectly moral, good god and the observable existence of evil and suffering. From the Christian perspective, these two states of affairs obtain and as such, require an explanation. That, however, doesn’t explain why Leibniz saw this world as the mean of all possible worlds. If there exists infinitely many worlds with decreased goodness and infinitely many worlds with increased goodness, what makes this one the desired middle? This statistical manner of looking at the existence of our world is all too human because means imply margin for error, but for God, there is no error and he therefore, requires no margin for it.
Leibniz scholars, however, have identified what has been called the Holiness Problem. God is tarnished by the existence of evil because something can’t exist unless he deems it so. Per Leibniz, even if one holds that all evil is a privation of good, there is no way God isn’t also the author of all privations. Leibniz draws an analogy of two paintings, one of which is a smaller-scaled version of the other:
To say that the painter is the author of all that is real in the two paintings, without however being the author of what is lacking or the disproportion between the larger and the smaller painting… . In effect, what is lacking is nothing more than a simple result of an infallible consequence of that which is positive, without any need for a distinct author [of that which is lacking].4
We can agree that art isn’t about exactness or at least, not all art is about that. A portrait or landscape can be photorealistic, but no one would conclude that the artist captured the existence of a thing or even its essence. It is still, in the end, a representation. If an artist makes any conscious choice while rendering his representation, he also chose against some alternative. If s/he chooses to represent a person or landscape in black and white, s/he also chooses against representing a person or landscape in color. As such, the privation of color present in the painting is by choice. Privation is collateral and can, at times, be consciously selected. So God, in demarcating this world as the mean among all possible worlds, is to blame for Attenborough’s parasitic worm:
But I tend to think instead of a parasitic worm that is boring through the eye of a boy sitting on the bank of a river in West Africa, [a worm] that’ going to make him blind.
‘And [I ask them], “Are you telling me that the God you believe in, who you also say is an all- merciful God, who cares for each one of us individually, are you saying that God created this worm that can live in no other way than in an innocent child’s eyeball? Because that doesn’t seem to me to coincide with a God who’ full of mercy.5
In making this the best of all possible worlds, either because it’s the mean of worlds of increasing goodness or because it is the most parsimonious of worlds, God is responsible for parasites of this sort. There would be no getting around that. As with the Free Will Theodicy, there’s also a theological issue with the Leibnizian theodicy: Heaven. God has already created a world with maximum goodness and no evil at all. So we can then ask why human beings weren’t created to inhabit heaven from the start. Even a Christian can start to sense that perhaps, as other Christians have noted, theodicies do more harm than good.
The Full Story Theodicy
Steven’s line of thinking here is not uncommon. In other discussions with Christians, they remind me that god is omniscient and I’m not. I recall one odious Christian telling me something along the lines that I can’t conclude that this doesn’t look like a universe created by god because I’m stupid and god is infinitely more intelligent than I am. Steven’s line of thinking, while not disrespectful, is more or less the same. While he concludes that it’s likely that no one can know the full story in this life, he cites C.S. Lewis who said it would be arrogant of anyone to say there’s a moral dilemma though they’re half-way through the story.
Yes, Job suffered; he suffered enough for three or four different people, but as the story goes, good recompense awaited Job at the end of it all. The same goes for Noah and Jonah. Steven’s Full Story Theodicy rests on the same optimism present in these Sunday School stories. All evil and suffering exists for some good end. That still doesn’t explain how this good end compensates for the degrees of evil and suffering we observe and experience in this world. Even if I agreed that heaven, a place with no tears and suffering, is the good end to these observances and experiences, there’s still the issue that in the present, these things exist. Perhaps a thought experiment can work here.
Imagine a poor boy living in an Arab territory. His father is sick. His mother is unable to work because she is caring for the boy and his younger siblings. So he takes it upon himself to steal bread from a local vendor. Unfortunately, he is caught and he loses his right hand. Eventually, he receives a prosthetic hand that allows him to lift ten times his body weight. It works just as well as the biological hand he once had. Yet this prosthetic hand doesn’t take away the pain he felt when they cut off his hand. It doesn’t change the years he suffered, like the struggles he experienced relearning to do simple things with his left hand. It doesn’t change the nerve pain he still experiences till this day.
On the assumption that there’s a continuance of consciousness between this life and an afterlife in Heaven, no blissful experience there would change the trauma, the pain, the memories from here, and to do so, would be to fundamentally change one’s identity. So, there’s already an issue with that assumption. To delete one’s memories of a loved one because s/he didn’t make it into Heaven would be to change one at a fundamental level. So the version of me that enters Heaven isn’t the person I am now; so there would be no way in which my homelessness at 19-years-old is justified by living in a heavenly mansion. The heavenly version of me would have forgotten all of my earthly trials. Or, to make it so that I can’t suffer or cry would be to change me into the automatons early theologians thought animals were. We know better now, but to exist in a state in where I can’t reflect on my trauma, no matter how distant they are in my past, is tantamount to existing in a state in where I can’t reflect on my bliss either! So if my thinking here is accurate, there’s no sense in which past evil or suffering can be justified by some future good, even on the assumption that a perfectly good world (Heaven) exists.
Steven, it’s not that there are no arguments capable of changing my mind and heart because I’m obstinate. Obstinacy features in a person who is wrong and yet fails to correct himself. What do we say of a person who is right and refuses to budge? My mind and my heart are in the right place because I have done my due diligence in exhausting most of the ways in which Christianity might be true. Aside from systematizing reality, this system would have to be as simple as it is esoteric. Sure, a mature Christianity isn’t the proverbial walk in the park. There is much philosophical and theological ground to cover for any Christian who takes their devotion seriously. You recognize that and I admire that about you.
Likewise, any naturalist who takes their position seriously has arguably more ground to cover. I’m not only a non-Christian, but just as much, I’m a non-Muslim, non-Jew, non-Hindu. I also do not mystify consciousness. I reject nonphysicalist theories of consciousness, for example. I am as fervent in my rejection of panpsychism as I am in my rejection of Cartesian dualism. Just as fervently, I reject a theodicy based on reincarnation: suffering and evil exist because some accumulative karma from past lives determined that. Like you, I do not allow for systemic inconsistency, so it can’t be that I’m a naturalist with regards to the origin of the universe, but a non-naturalist with regards to consciousness. While there are philosophers who entertain such inconsistencies, I don’t think cognitive dissonance is a good leg to stand on. If anything, it’s a temporary crutch while one is in limbo between two seductive positions.
In any case, even though naturalism arguably spreads itself in more directions, it is a far simpler system, especially given that , assuming the naturalist in question believes in agency, only deals with the agency of entities that can easily be shown to exist. So when there’s a particularly pungent stench in the corner of my bedroom coming from a yellowish puddle on the floor, I now have to decide whether my girlfriend or my cat urinated on the floor. I can point to both agents and others can also verify that they both exist, and naturalist, Christian, or otherwise, everyone will agree that my girlfriend is the culprit! Jokes aside, we both know that even in esoteric matters, the simplest and, more often than not, naturalistic explanation is not only preferred, but also the case. No one would reason that a ghost urinated on my floor!
For many reasons not outlined here, I no longer identify as a Christian. It is not because, as some immature Christians would have it, I deny god in my unrighteousness or because I’m angry with him for causing a rift between me and my family, and making me homeless. Truth is, I’m responsible for that rift! Sure, I was young and far more hotheaded then than I am now, but I disrespected the Matriarch of my family, my grandmother and I did so when she was older and more fragile. I was an existential risk to her. My aunts, recognizing this, thought it best to separate me from her. Maybe they knew I was too stubborn to commit suicide or stay homeless or go insane. Maybe they knew I’d find a way.
Since then, we have had a short, but welcome reconciliation. At my father’s wake, which I was afraid to even show up to, my family forgave me. There were hugs and love and memories all around and ironically, this was all to do with my father’s example: he was a forgiving man, a forgiveness he adopted from the teachings of Jesus Christ and one that resonated with them. Yet it was still on me to accept their forgiveness and I did because even though I’ve matured and made someone of myself, I still recognized that my past self was someone who needed to apologize, someone who needed forgiveness. I was wrong!
I am, however, not wrong for being human. I do not think I’m totally depraved and I don’t think humans, by nature, are either. I can elaborate, but what I see are proclivities towards one vice or another for reasons mostly outside of our control. This would explain why even the most publicly devout Christians are the most privately immoral people. This explains why a guy in one of my old churches molested his daughters and granddaughter and explains why one of his sons molested his younger brother. This explains why evangelists seek out prostitutes. This explains why young couples commit fornication near universally. And yet the latter is contingent on the notion that marriage justifies sexual intercourse. I, on the other hand, believe that if both parties are educated, especially with regards to the consequences, and are in a position to consent to one another, then they are doing nothing wrong by having sex.
Where does it end? Let’s say a future good justifies a past evil, if a Christian guy’s girlfriend eventually becomes his wife, then is their past fornication justified by their future marriage? It can be argued that the couple never did anything wrong because God, being omniscient, saw their marriage. Never mind that this relies on what I think is a fault theory of time! On the A-theory, talk of past, present, and future are germane. In fact, on any realist theory of time, these concepts must be entertained. Time, on my view, is purely conceptual and not fundamental, but even in concept, we can visualize it as a line in which all points between a beginning and an end already exist. This is why we can visualize, plan, and execute our plans. This is why we meet someone, see a future with them, and take steps to ensure that that future, and not some other future, happens. So given this, a young man sleeping with his present-day girlfriend is not doing anything wrong if she’s his future-day wife, but I digress.
There’s much more I can say explaining why I’m not a Christian, but suffice to say I’m not a Christian. My reasons are exhaustive and spread out in a lot of different directions, but I think the crux has been aptly captured here: as a system, Christianity fails. This is what I intend when I say that Christianity is not true. For any experience or observation or entity x, Christianity must serve as a cogent and superior explanation for x. No other system should be able to outperform Christianity on any of these fronts. Should there be a system that does outperform it, then the likelihood of Christianity being a good system, let alone the best system, decreases. This is what I found as the scales fell from eyes. Christianity fails to account for many things x, y, and z. Suffering and evil are just a small part of that.
1 Cramer, David C. “John Hick (1922-2012)”. International Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web. ND.
2 Arguing About Evil: Plantinga’s Free Will Defense”. Common Sense Atheism. 25 Oct 2009. Web.
3 Murray, Michael J. “Leibniz on the Problem of Evil”. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 27 Feb 2013. Web.
5 Firma, Terry. “Naturalist Sir David Attenborough Loses His Patience With Bible Literalists”. Friendly Atheist. 15 Feb 2014. Web.
“When we stop to reflect on the questions of whether our pre-reflective beliefs are justified, a host of different biases go to work. We better remember evidence which supports the beliefs we hold than evidence we encountered which runs contrary to them. We better remember occasions on which we have been correct than those on which we have erred. We have a tendency to judge arguments which support our beliefs quite favorably, while arguments which run contrary to our beliefs are held to a very high standard. When we form judgments about the processes by which our pre-reflective beliefs were formed, we seem to employ as a minor premise the belief that we are, all things considered, quite reliable in our judgements, and we thus have a strong tendency to see our beliefs as based on evidence which we ourselves take to be highly probative, whether the beliefs were in fact formed on such a basis or not. As a result, far more often than not, the result of reflection turns out to be little more than a ratification of the beliefs held prior to reflective evaluation. Rather than serving as a source of correction…reflection tends to act in ways which further cement our pre-reflective beliefs into place within the larger web of our convictions. Many reflective processes thus act not to correct our pre-reflective beliefs, but only to increase our confidence in them; we thus become more self-satisfied, even if no more accurate, epistemic agents.”
Hilary Kornblith as quoted in Experimental Philosophy: An Introduction by Joshua Alexander
By R.N. Carmona
Them who, for philosophical reasons, adopt perspectivism or them who, in the interest of preserving their beliefs, adopt perspectivism misunderstand what Nietzsche intended to achieve. Nietzsche was not arguing that all perspectives are created equal; he recognized that some were better than others. Neither was he arguing that objectivity was not possible. He wrote: “The more eyes, different eyes, we know how to bring to bear on one and the same matter, that much more complete will our ‘concept’ of this matter, our ‘objectivity’ be.”1
The truth isn’t a democratic process. Taken together, he was arguing that if we to consider all perspectives worth considering, namely those perspectives that are among the best, we can arrive at a more objective conclusion. On political, legal, moral, philosophical, and even scientific matters, informed perspectives can help us arrive at the objective truth. Nothing at all is shielding people from the facts of the matter. Our perspective may be wrong or distorted, but if we account for other perspectives, especially better ones, one can adopt a better perspective.
This take is more accurate than a take which argued that the truth is equal to opinion. Nietzsche would not have argued that. Most contemporary perspectivists miss that crucial point: objectivity is not impossible; in fact, the more complete one’s accounting of better perspectives is, the closer one gets to achieving objectivity with regards to the case in question. Opinions are not created equal; some are better than others. Opinions and perspectives are virtually interchangeable. While opinions are informed by one’s given perspective, one’s opinion would differ given that one’s perspective differed; this is to say that opinions are contingent on one’s perspective. An opinion might even be considered an iteration of one’s perspective, a way of explaining one’s perspective or putting it into words.
This isn’t necessarily a post-truth era, since truth still exists. The truth can be avoided or flat-out denied, but this doesn’t imply that we now find ourselves in an era in where there’s no truth. There are still truths, both mundane and profound–from your particular date of birth to the fact that the universe is roughly 13.8 billion years old. We are, unfortunately, free to deny these truths, but that doesn’t change their status. Contemporary perspectivists have bastardized Nietzsche’s view and presented it as an enemy of truth. In fact, perspectivism may be the only account of truth that makes sense, both philosophically and practically. If one were to consider that, for instance, arguments were needed to tell people why slavery was wrong, one will begin to see that a fuller consideration of better perspectives helps us to see reason. Arguments were also needed to show people why misogyny was wrong; arguments were needed to overturn the nonsense law that allowed men to keep the belongings of their former wives. This new Act allowed women to have rights to their inheritances and property–even the property they acquired during marriage.
In a post-God era, Nietzsche’s view makes sense. If God is truly dead, the only unity of human reality we can achieve is one that accounts for as many human perspectives as possible. Nietzsche’s perspectivism, when considered fully, is a valid theory of truth. Contemporary proponents of a more simplistic perspectivism would fool one into thinking that there’s no objectivity to be had. Nietzsche clearly didn’t argue that. His perspectivism is much more careful in how it proceeds and gives us a way to achieve objectivity — a way that is in keeping with history. This should come as no surprise coming from a philosopher who was concerned with the use and abuse of history. It is only fitting that his theory of truth is one that is supported by historical trends.
1 Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. Beyond good and evil ; and the genealogy of morals. New York: Barnes & Noble , 1996. Print.