By R.N. Carmona
Before I express my most current thoughts about the idea of god and where I now stand, it is important to go over exactly what relation the Game of Thrones character Bran Stark has to a common concept of god. Bran Stark, who is currently an entity known as the Three-Eyed Raven, has omniscience as it concerns people and events. It has been shown that he can be touched in the future (when the Night’s King grabbed his arm), manipulate the present (by employing his warg ability), and influence the past (as shown when he called out to a younger version of his father Ned and when young Hodor heard Meera in the present telling present-day Hodor to hold the door). Yet despite his omniscience, he is powerless to prevent the war between the living and the dead, the armies of men and the Night’s King and his army of White Walkers and wights.
In fact, many theories concerning Bran have been circulated. One theory says that Bran Stark is Bran the builder. Bran the builder, legend has it, built the Wall where Jon Snow completed his watch and also Winterfell. Another postulates that Bran is the Lord of Light, the god of the Red Priestesses who reveals future events in fires. According to such theories, Bran reincarnates and lives forever in a repeating loop or he’s ascended to the role of an all-knowing god. Game of Thrones could be a literal time loop in where Bran is trying to prevent a number of catastrophic events like the creation of White Walkers by the Children of the Forest, the Mad King’s holocaust of Westerosi citizens, and the events that have yet to transpire – which may include the deaths of Daenerys and Jon, not to mention every person in Westeros.
Game of Thrones could literally be a story about an omniscient and all-powerful or nigh-all-powerful mystic or god being rendered powerless by chaos theory. In other words, per Littlefinger: “Chaos is a ladder” and only that ladder is real. All else is illusion. In trying to prevent the creation of the White Walkers or the Mad King’s holocaust, Bran unintentionally sets off other horrific events. The prevention of one bad outcome or consequence results in the emergence of a new bad outcome or consequence. Thinking about Bran’s predicament got me thinking about the idea of an omniscient being.
God’s predicament, should one exist, wouldn’t be any different. Preventing a murder on one side of the world only ensures the emergence of a new, unintended one on the other side of the world. If the flapping of a butterfly’s wings results in a derailed train that kills dozens, a god might reason to prevent the flapping of the wings, but in doing so, an unintended volcanic eruption wipes out dozens in a separate location. The idea of omniscience along with omnipotence would ensure that such a being is rendered powerless! Westeros may not work very much like our world; there is after all magic, undead, dragons, and voices speaking from fires. Chaos theory might not feature in Westeros, but it certainly features in our world. A being like the Three-Eyed Raven would have incredible power, but will resign himself to inactivity.
God, should one exist, might have realized this long ago and has thus resigned himself to inactivity and indifference. Omniscience entails foresight and omnipotence entails prevention of what one foresees, but the two powers together would inevitably result in voluntarily powerlessness. In a world of chaos, an order that prevents all evil and all suffering is simply not possible; it is unachievable. Should there be a god, Nietzsche might be best read literally. God is effectively dead. He is a celestial vegetable, eternally inactive upon realizing that he could never achieve a perfect world. I am firmly a post-theist in that I am beyond entertaining the ideas of religion and writing extensively and frequently about such topics. But should there be a god, I would approach it with compassion and pity because despite having all that power, it’s as though it has no power.
A simply corollary might make things clearer. Humans are no doubt limited and finite in their power to prevent unappealing outcomes and consequences. They are equally limited in their capacity to formulate and execute contingency plans. Yet even when one succeeds at preventing one’s business from failure by taking out a sizable loan, there’s now the unintended consequence of realizing several months down the line that an extensive layoff is necessary to turn enough profit to pay off the debt and continue to operate the business. Preventing one bad outcome seems to ensure the emergence of another. Though some regard this study as debunked, the jury is still out on whether extensive gene editing results in hundreds of potentially harmful mutations.
It could be that chaos requires a balancing of the scales and it is only in that balance that order is achieved. God might have done all he could to prevent the abusive childhood of one person only to ensure the emergence of another person’s abusive childhood. The Three-Eyed Raven’s predicament might not be any different from what a god’s would be if it existed. Joan Osborne’s song comes to mind in thinking that perhaps god is essentially one of us. The poor bastard has all that power and can do absolutely nothing with it.
By R.N. Carmona
The following argument is based on an obvious truth and also on a theistic assumption. The obvious truth comes from John Mbiti who in his African Religions and Philosophy (1975) said: “I am because we are, and since we are, therefore I am.” This isn’t the Cartesian view many people operate from: “I think, therefore I am.” Consciousness, in other words, isn’t born in and doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It isn’t, as it were, a location on a map that can be identified in isolation of other locations; it is like a location that’s identified only in its relation to other locations. I know where I find myself only because I know where all other minds in my vicinity are. Even deeper than that is the unsettling fact that my entire personality isn’t a melody, but rather a cacophony; I am who I am because the people in my lives are who they are and they are who they are because of the influence of others and the circumstances they’ve faced, and so on and so forth. As Birhane explains:
We need others in order to evaluate our own existence and construct a coherent self-image. Think of that luminous moment when a poet captures something you’d felt but had never articulated; or when you’d struggled to summarise your thoughts, but they crystallised in conversation with a friend. Bakhtin believed that it was only through an encounter with another person that you could come to appreciate your own unique perspective and see yourself as a whole entity. By ‘looking through the screen of the other’s soul,’ he wrote, ‘I vivify my exterior.’ Selfhood and knowledge are evolving and dynamic; the self is never finished – it is an open book.
Most people, given the Cartesian view, look at the self through the lens of what Dennett calls the Cartesian theater. There is, to our minds, a continuity between the self when we are children and the self now as adults. We point to attributes, even if only loosely related: our temperament, our competitive nature, the fact that we’re friendly or not, and so on. Few of us consider the circumstances and the people who played a role in molding these seeming consistencies. Where many of us see a straight continuous line, others see points on a graph, and yet, even if there’s virtual consistency in one’s competitive edge, for instance, there are milieus to consider, from the school(s) one attended, to one’s upbringing, to the media one was exposed to. The self is indeed an open and ever-changing book. The Cartesian theater, like the Cartesian self, is a convenient illusion; there is no self without other selves.
The Cartesian view is problematic on its own. “I think, therefore I am” was Descartes’ conclusion, but one can imagine saying to Descartes: “okay, but what do you think about? What is the content of your thoughts?” So even on the Cartesian view, Mbiti’s truth is found. It is, in fact, a tacit admission contained in Descartes’ view because in order to think one must be thinking about something or someone. Some thoughts are elaborate and involve representations of places one is familiar with whether it be one’s living room or local grocery store. Even the content of Descartes’ thoughts acknowledged other people and things, so Descartes didn’t conclude “I think [full stop], therefore I am.” In truth, it was more like “I think [about x things and y people represented in z places], therefore I am.” He identified himself only through other selves.
The theistic assumption is the idea that the mind of god(s) is like ours. On Judaism and Christianity, we were fashioned in his image. This doesn’t apply so much to our physical bodies, but more so to our minds because on the theistic assumption, the mind proceeds from an immaterial, spiritual source rather than from a physical source like our brains or the combination of our brains and nervous systems.
On the assumption that god’s mind is like ours and given the truth expressed by Mbiti, it is impossible for a singular consciousness to have existed on its own in eternity past. In other words, before god created angels, humans, and animals, there was some point in eternity past in when he was the only mind that existed. Yet if his mind is like ours, then there was never a point in where he existed on his own. The only recourse for the monotheist is therefore, polytheism because the implication is that at least one other mind must have existed along with god’s in eternity past.
Muslims and Jews, if Mbiti’s truth is accepted, will have no choice but to concede. Some Christians, on the other hand, will think they find recourse in the idea of the Trinity. Some might try to qualify the notion that the minds of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct from one another. The obvious issue with that idea is that that would undermine the unity their god is said to have. In fact, that has been at the core of much philosophical dispute since the Muslim golden age. As Tuggy explains:
Muslim philosopher Abu Yusef al-Kindi (ca. 800–70) understood the doctrine to assert that there are three divine persons, three individuals, each composed of the divine essence together with its own distinctive characteristic. But whatever is composed is caused, and whatever is caused is not eternal. So the doctrine, he holds, absurdly claims that each of the persons isn’t eternal, and since they’re all divine, each is eternal.
Whether or not these contentions hold is still a matter of dispute and is not our present focus. The Trinity on its own wouldn’t be sufficient because it would require a milieu to exist within. Given this, then there would be other things that also existed in eternity past. Plato’s Forms might be those sorts of things because god’s mind, being like ours, would require a number of things to experience and to assist with maintaining god’s self, per se. Mbiti’s truth applies to cognitive and psychological aspects about humans and other animals even, especially mammals. It also applies, more broadly, to consciousness and as such, the Problem of Other Minds as it is so-called is only a problem if one were to assume that the Cartesian view is the case; other minds and other things are the reasons a self forms and can come to identify itself as distinct. Cognitive and psychological aspects about us don’t exist in a vacuum, but neither does consciousness. The same, on the assumption that god’s mind is like ours, applies to god’s mind.
Ultimately, a singular consciousness could not have existed in eternity past absent other consciousnesses and things. Unless one continues to obstinately assume that Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” is true over and above Mibti’s “I am because we are, and since we are, therefore I am,” there’s no recourse outside of polytheism. Either there were two or more gods that existed in eternity past or there are no gods. What should be clear from what’s been outlined here is that a singular consciousness that once existed in a vacuum at some point in eternity past, i.e., the monotheistic conception of god, is impossible.
By R.N. Carmona
Far above the claim that Christians have the truth, there’s one claim that has been overlooked by many non-believers: the claim that Christians understand the will and thoughts of an immaterial consciousness. This arrogant claim got me thinking quite a bit about our understanding of human consciousness and the consciousnesses of other organisms. As in other cases, a Christian may be cocksure about their pet theory, Cartesian dualism. They might be quite convinced of their theory of consciousness. Less common is the atheist who thinks they have consciousness figured out. Despite these haughty pretenses, none of these people understand consciousness; nor have they ironed out a viable theory of consciousness.
One well-known theory of where the idea of gods came from posits that humans simply created an ideal and then began to believe that the ideal exists. In other words, humans can be loving, good, strong, and knowledgeable, so given that, there must be a being who’s like us and yet perfect in every respect in which we are not. This they called god. When one considers a cross cultural approach, taking, for instance, Greek and Roman demigods into account, the theory holds an ocean of water. This is perhaps the reason why monotheists, Christians most specifically, think they can comprehend god’s thoughts and will.
Why must an immaterial mind resemble our demonstrably material mind? How can you understand a supposedly infinite consciousness if you can’t even comprehend your own finite consciousness? You also can’t understand the finite consciousnesses of other living things. The fact is that if such an immaterial mind existed, it would be beyond comprehension and certainly not as capricious, malicious, jealous, vindictive, and bloodthirsty as the Judeo-Christian or Islamic gods.
On top of that, the idea of an all-loving being is questionable because love is literally reducible to chemical reactions in the human brain. As Shermer explains:
I find it deeply interesting to know that when I fall in love with someone my initial lustful feelings are enhanced by dopamine, a neurohormone produced by the hypothalamus that triggers the release of testosterone, the hormone that drives sexual desire, and that my deeper feelings of attachment are reinforced by oxytocin, a hormone synthesized in the hypothalamus and secreted into the blood by the pituitary. Further, it is instructive to know that such hormone-induced neural pathways are exclusive to monogamous pairbonded species as an evolutionary adaptation for the long-term care of helpless infants. We fall in love because our children need us! Does this in any way lessen the qualitative experience of falling in love and doting on one’s children? Of course not, any more than unweaving a rainbow into its constituent parts reduces the aesthetic appreciation of the rainbow.
Shermer, Michael. The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies–How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths. New York: Times, 2011. 186. Print.
This isn’t to undermine the experience of love. Rather, this is to highlight the fact that what we call love is very specific to our neuroanatomy–a neuroanatomy that differs from even our closest cousins. I would argue that the jury is still out on whether chimps and gorillas feel or conceptualize anything like love, but one thing’s for certain, an immaterial mind may not even be capable of love or empathy, especially since the latter is dependent on social bonding and care of kin.
All this taken together and it becomes even clearer that humans created an ideal and started to believe that such an ideal must exist. Yet if there were such a thing as a immaterial mind that created the universe as we know it, it would be nothing at all like human beings. There’s more philosophical evidence to consider.
Consider the assertion that god is omniscient. In order for god to be omniscient, he would have to be able to calmly enter the waters of David Chalmer’s important question: what is it like to be a bat? In addition, he’d have to know what it’s like to be a velociraptor, a neanderthal, a wooly mammoth, a dolphin, and a dog. He’d have to be able to fully grasp the somatosensory, auditory, and olfactory experiences of every living being. If you’re persuaded by panpsychism, then god would have to understand what it’s like to be a chair or a blender. So clearly this is an incomprehensible consciousness far exceeding our own and there’s no way we were created in his image.
The fact is that many philosophers have strived and are striving to understand human consciousness; some have tried and are attempting to understand non-human consciousness. We admittedly do not fully understand our own consciousness or the consciousnesses of any other organisms and yet, billions of people claim to be privy to the thoughts and desires of an immaterial consciousness. It is this claim that should drive people away from belief. The claim is highly dubious and certainly wrong. If there were such a thing as immaterial minds, we wouldn’t be able to comprehend them and god being such a mind, is incomprehensible and the so-called revelations rendered to us thus far are woefully inadequate, for it is clear to anyone lacking the deep-seated need to believe that such a mind cannot be like ours, capable of both our feats and our faults.
It is useful to note that even if Plantinga or any Christian rejects the contra-argument, the first premise can be challenged. Rather than quibble with what is meant by maximal excellence, an atheist can accept the definition as it stands. The atheist can, however, question whether this is possible world W in where a being of maximal excellence exists and explore the consequences if it turns out that this isn’t that possible world. In other words, if this isn’t that specific possible world, then the argument is speaking of a possible world that is inaccessible to the believer and the believer is therefore in no better position to convince the non-believer. Put another way, if a being of maximal excellence doesn’t exist in this possible world, then it possibly exists in another world that cannot be accessed by any of the inhabitants in this world. There is therefore no utility or pragmatic value in belief. The argument would only speak of a logical possibility that is ontologically impossible in this world.
The atheist can take it a step further. What Christian theists purport to know about god stems from the Bible. The Bible, in other words, gives us information about god, his character, and his history as it relates to this world. Assuming this is possible world W, does he represent a being having maximal excellence? Is he, for instance, identical to a being who is wholly good? Any honest consideration of parts of the Bible would lead one to conclude that god is not identical to a being who is wholly good; god, in other words, isn’t wholly good. So obvious is his evil that Marcion of Sinope diverged from proto-Orthodox Christians in concluding that the Jewish God in the Old Testament is an evil deity and is in no way the father of Jesus. Yet if he’s evil, then he isn’t wholly good and if he isn’t wholly good, he fails to have maximal excellence.
Moreover, and much more damning to Plantinga’s argument, is that a being of maximal greatness has maximal excellence in all worlds. Therefore, if this being does not have maximal excellence in one of those worlds or more specifically, in this world, then it does not possess maximal greatness. Far from victorious, Plantinga’s argument would taste irreparable defeat and this, in more ways than one.
By R.N. Carmona
A Christian on the Humans of New York Instagram page brought up the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument (LCA) and named a few of its Christian defenders. Like I’m fond of pointing out, in naming just Christian defenders of the argument, it is likely he hasn’t considered actual objections. He’s read a degraded form of objections via the lens of these Christian authors. This is why I call apologetics, pseudo-philosophy.
In actual philosophical discourse, the participants in a given discussion are as charitable to one another as possible and they try very hard to ensure that nothing is lost in translation. They constantly correct themselves if they misinterpret what their opponent has said or they attempt to show that their interpretation better captures what their opponent is trying to say. Apologists don’t do this. Apologists straw man an objection, sometimes in ways that seem sophisticated, in order to make the argument or counter-argument easier to address. This is precisely why I advised him to deal with J.L. Mackie, for example–to read him directly and not through the lens of one of his favored authors. Then he would find that even Christians reject the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument (LCA).
A quick example of what I mean: in responding to my Argument From Cosmology, my opponent says that the opposite of my conclusion is as follows: the fact that an x can’t be shown to exist in relation to y doesn’t mean that x doesn’t exist*; in other words, that god can’t be shown to exist in relation to the Earth doesn’t mean god doesn’t exist. Yet on Judaism and Christianity, god created the Earth. Modern science tells us that planets have no creator; they form naturally over an extended period of time. We have real time data of planet formation in other systems. The history of our planet doesn’t resemble anything mentioned in the Bible. By extension, I argue that god doesn’t exist in relation to the universe, since he didn’t create it. Modern cosmology tells us as much.
His assertion is not enough to refute my argument. In fact, all he’s concluding is the opposite of what he misunderstood as my conclusion. My actual conclusion is this: x does not exist in relation to y iff it is necessary that x exist in relation to y. If god did not create the Earth or the universe, he doesn’t exist in relation to either, and by extension, doesn’t exist; however, on Christianity, it is necessary that he does. This is precisely what his favored LCA says. Through the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR), for every being or state of affairs that exist, there is a sufficient reason for why they exist. It then adds, that for every being or state of affairs that exist, there is a necessary reason for why they exist. Therefore, god is the necessary and sufficient reason for why these states of affairs exist.
My Argument From Cosmology best captures a decisive criticism of the LCA without directly engaging it. J.L. Mackie stated that PSR need not be assumed by reason. Reason only asks for antecedent causes and conditions that explain each being or state of affairs. These are considered facts until they themselves are explained by something prior to them. On reason, nothing is prerequisite beyond this.
Thus, going back to my conclusion, x does not exist in relation to y iff it is necessary that x exist in relation to y. In order for Christianity to hold true, god would have had to create the Earth and the universe. If we have reason to doubt that he created the Earth, and modern science establishes this conclusively, then we have much reason to doubt that he created the universe. If the Earth can be explained by antecedent causes and conditions, then the universe can as well. My argument offers a number of plausible explanations fielded in modern cosmology all whilst arguing that there cannot be the type of causation Christians would require, i.e., the type of causation that allows for an immaterial agent to create material objects. At best, such causation is unknowable and it is probable that there will be no hard evidence for it; hence the Christian must retreat to agnosticism. At worst, such causation is impossible and there cannot be any evidence for it; thus, the Christian must retreat to atheism.
Ultimately, my argument addresses the LCA by implication, i.e., my argument implies a defeater of the LCA. Therefore, I do not have to address it directly. The same can be said of the KCA. Rebuttals to both arguments are implicit in my argument. That fact alone should give apologists pause.
In any case, my point has been made: apologetics is pseudo-philosophy. Apologists prop it up by being uncharitable and purposely (in most cases) misinterpreting a claim or argument made by atheists. Apologists are also modern sophists: it matters not how things might be or probably are; what matters is what they think is the case, what they say is the case, or what they deem possible–as though possibility implies probability. Apologists are also quite fond of straw men, which they use to make their arguments seem superior to those of their opponents. Unlike them, I have defined PSR correctly and I’ve summarized the LCA charitably. However, I’ve also shown that my Argument From Cosmology considers the LCA, albeit indirectly. My argument implies a decisive blow to the LCA. It is therefore necessary to deal with my argument directly; it isn’t enough to choose a favored argument and deem it superior on the basis of a misinterpretation of my conclusion.
*His assessment is correct assuming that x isn’t necessary with relation to y. The fact that I (x) cannot be explained with relation to an invention (y) doesn’t mean I do not exist. Even the actual inventor of invention (y) doesn’t have this sort of connection to the invention in question. Another agent could have been the inventor. On Christianity, however, there are no other gods and hence no other creators. Thus, if god did not create the Earth, there is reason to doubt he created anything else in the universe and therefore, the universe itself. As stated, for Christianity to be true, it need only be shown that god is necessary in this possible world; the LCA, as originally formulated, wants Anselm’s deity and therefore, on the LCA, god is necessary in all possible worlds. My argument casts much doubt on this, especially since god is the necessary being antecedent to all contingent beings. If this connection fails on a minor front, e.g., god didn’t create all baseballs, that’s fine, for even then he would underlie the reason for the reason of the baseballs, namely human beings. If it fails on a major front, as I’ve shown in the case of the Earth and all planets for that matter, a glaring problem arises for Christians, for even if they posit a being that willed the laws of physics, what they have is a deity far removed from the deity in the Bible. That would make for a separate discussion altogether.
By R.N. Carmona
Theism and atheism aren’t merely epistemic stances concerning belief in god, but they’re robust philosophical positions that contain an analytic component. Analytic theism will ask the following questions: what is theism?; what or who is god? Analytic atheism will share the latter question insofar as the theist attempts to provide answers to that question.
Atheists, however, will not always agree with the answers provided by theists. A theist may respond to the first question and say that god is existence. An atheist might object by saying that such a definition is inconsistent with what theists commonly profess and that what they usually profess is much more elementary. God, for example, is man-like. He is pleased or displeased; given the latter, he is prone to anger. Furthermore, he purportedly has properties that can’t be attributed to mere existence: he’s omniscient, omnipotent, eternal. The atheist could also respond by stating that defining god as existence is much too vague. The aim of a definition is description; this definition, however, fails to describe what is meant by god.
Analytic atheism also attempts to answer the question: what is atheism? To accomplish this, however, the normative component has to be consulted. The analytic component, which is discussed below, will provide theories of atheism or more simply, accounts of what atheism should be–therefore providing possible answers to the question of normative atheism. The analytic component is therefore responsible for determining which account best captures what atheism is or alternatively, what an atheist is.
What an atheist is is perhaps best defined by the approach he/she chooses. The approach chosen or a combination of these approaches might help us to arrive at a better definition of atheism. There’s fallibilism, deductive atheology, and inductive atheology. The latter two are encompassed by evidentialism. This position is arguably most familiar to modern atheists:
[A]theists have taken the view that whether or not a person is justified in having an attitude of belief towards the proposition, “God exists,” is a function of that person’s evidence. “Evidence” here is understood broadly to include a priori arguments, arguments to the best explanation, inductive and empirical reasons, as well as deductive and conceptual premises. An asymmetry exists between theism and atheism in that atheists have not offered faith as a justification for non-belief. That is, atheists have not presented non-evidentialist defenses for believing that there is no God.1
A priori arguments fall in the purview of deductive atheology. Such atheists would argue that the traditional view of god is incoherent. Such a god isn’t possible on this view. The characteristics god purportedly has are contradictory either in and of themselves or when one attempts to reconcile them. Take for example J.L Mackie’s explication of the Omnipotence Paradox: “can an omnipotent being make things which he cannot subsequently control? Or, what is practically equivalent to this, can an omnipotent being make rules which then bind himself?”2 This is a more generalized version of the Omnipotence Paradox, which usually asks: can god create a stone he cannot lift? Therefore, the paradox can be viewed as an argument attempting to show that omnipotence is incoherent in and of itself. The argument attempts to accomplish this by dividing omnipotence into two components, which I’ll call functional and physical. Functional omnipotence is the capacity to will anything whilst physical omnipotence is the capacity to do anything. Therefore, the argument attempts to show that it’s possible that god could will something he cannot do–in Mackie’s case, will something that he can’t control or in the general case, will the existence of a stone so heavy that he cannot complete the particular task of lifting it.
Another route such an atheist takes is the attempt to show that any given attributes of god are irreconcilable.
The combination of omnipotence and omniscience have received a great deal of attention. To possess all knowledge, for instance, would include knowing all of the particular ways in which one will exercise one’s power, or all of the decisions that one will make, or all of the decisions that one has made in the past. But knowing any of those entails that the known proposition is true. So does God have the power to act in some fashion that he has not foreseen, or differently than he already has without compromising his omniscience? It has also been argued that God cannot be both unsurpassably good and free.3
Another route available to such an atheist is to argue that we haven’t been offered an adequate concept of god.4 Concepts of god are often relative to this or that religion or subjective to this or that individual. Such concepts often do not agree with one another.
Perhaps the final route such an atheist can take is to argue that the failure of theistic arguments entails atheism. In other words, since arguments for god fail, it is reasonable to hold that god doesn’t exist. Such an atheist, for example, will argue that since the Kalam Cosmological Argument fails to prove that god created the universe, we should believe that such an agent didn’t create the universe. Alternatively, she will argue that since the Ontological Argument fails to show the existence of a necessary being, this being is instead impossible. Whether or not these arguments hold are of no interest at the time. This is, however, how such an atheist will proceed.
An atheist operating under inductive atheology has several possible approaches. Whether or not one can prove a negative is too tangential a topic to cover here, but assuming it’s possible, one could offer Michael Martin’s argument:
P1 [A]ll the available evidence used to support the view that X exists is shown to be inadequate; and
P2 X is the sort of entity that, if X exists, then there is a presumption that would be evidence adequate to support the view that X exists; and
P3 this presumption has not been defeated although serious efforts have been made to do so; and
P4 the area where evidence would appear, if there were any, has been comprehensively examined; and
P5 there are no acceptable beneficial reasons to believe that X exists.5
What makes this argument inductive is P3 and P4. P3 and P4 hold hitherto and thus, there’s the tacit assumption that they will hold going forward. In other words, that the future will resemble the past.
Naturalism is another argument available to an atheist operating under inductive atheology. This is, in fact, the prevalent approach among modern day atheists. Atheists may disagree on the details and therefore, espouse different sorts of naturalism. However, the more prominent forms are metaphysical and methodological. Methodological naturalism has two primary forms: constructive and deflationary. Deflationary is based on–not exclusively–the Natural Ontological Attitude (NOA). Arthur Fine describes it as follows:
I certainly trust the evidence of my senses, on the whole with regard to the existence and features of everyday objects. And I have similar confidence in the “cheek, double-check, check, tripe-check” of scientific investigation…So if scientists tell me that there really are molecules and atoms, and…who knows maybe even quarks, then so be it. I trust them and, thus, must accept that there really are such things with their attendant properties and relations.6
NOA is an alternative to scientific realism and anti-realism. “Both realism and anti-realism add an unwanted philosophical gloss to science.”7 Therefore, the position neither agrees with scientific realism nor anti-realism. At first glance, NOA may sound exactly like scientific realism, but there are key differences that should be considered (e.g. the correspondence theory of truth doesn’t factor into Fine’s NOA). Constructive naturalism differs from NOA because it “involves commitment to a definite method for resolving ontological matters.”8 Such a naturalist may make use of, for example, Quine’s Naturalized Epistemology.
Metaphysical naturalism absorbs methodological naturalism. The view could be defined as follows:
Metaphysical naturalism seeks to explain every feature of our reality through only natural entities and causes, without the need of god(s) or the supernatural in any part of one’s worldview and life philosophy. In other words, a “big picture” explanation of reality can be reached without any appeal to religion, making religions such as Christianity unnecessary and extraneous to answering the big questions in life.9
Metaphysical naturalism is a robust worldview that often requires lengthy elucidation. This has been done by, for example, Richard Carrier who states:
[I]f you want to know what we believe on almost any subject, you need merely read authoritative works on science and history–which means, first, college-level textbooks of good quality and, second, all the other literature on which their contents are based. The vast bulk of what you find there we believe in. The evidence and reason for those beliefs is presented in such works and need not be repeated…10
Where such authorities are silent, metaphysical naturalism is capable of providing possible answers. Take, for instance, the mind or morality. Metaphysical naturalism can offer cogent explanations in regards to both. For instance, with respect to the mind, some naturalists have offered some version of supervenience.
On fallibilism, an atheist can argue that a theist has come to a given conclusion because he hasn’t considered all the relevant evidence.11 In fact, part of this attitude plays a role in discussions between theists and atheists. Theists, generally speaking, make it quite obvious that they aren’t aware of all of the relevant evidence. William Lane Craig, for example, employs a perfunctory grasp of cosmology in order to support his KCA. It’s reasonable to conclude that if he were aware of all of the evidence, his conclusion would be different. Unfortunately, this might be too generous. Craig has been made aware of the evidence and regardless of the fact, he still chooses to endorse the KCA. So in some cases, it’s not just that a theist’s knowledge is fallible, but it’s that they disregard the fact and do not care to correct it.
Now that I’ve surveyed analytic atheism, it is time now to discuss the normative component of atheism. The normative question is akin to normativity as commonly understood in philosophy. Take, for instance, normative jurisprudence. The question of normative jurisprudence is: what should law be? In like manner, the question of normative atheism is: what should atheism be? Or, what should an atheist be?
Clearly, given that a Buddhist can be considered an atheist, atheism should be more than simply lack of belief in gods. To see what atheism should be or what an atheist should be, it is required that we distinguish the atheist and the Buddhist. We are required to account for their differences. These differences will help us see why one identifies as an atheist whilst the other identifies as a Buddhist.
Buddhism, however, divides into two primary schools: Mahayana and Theravada. These two schools divide further within themselves. We therefore have to narrow our focus. In other words, we have to focus on a certain type of Buddhist to see where the differences are. Thus, we will focus on Tibetan Buddhism.
Tibetan Buddhism pertains to Mahayana Buddhism. It, however, incorporates tantric and shamanic aspects–the latter of which it appropriated from the ancient Tibetan religion, Bon. For this reason, it is often conflated with or mistaken for a minor school of Buddhism, Vajrayana.12 Tantra for instance “brings Tibetan Buddhism a magical element and a rich portfolio of heavenly beings. It also brings a wide variety of spiritual techniques such as mantras, mandalas, ceremonies, and many varieties of yoga.”13
Without going any further into Tibetan Buddhism, does an atheist, as normally construed, believe in magical elements and heavenly beings? Does she participate in rituals or believe in their efficacy? The obvious answer is no. Therefore, when someone refers to Buddhism as atheistic, they mean only to point out that Buddhism doesn’t offer a concept of god. It isn’t, however, atheistic in a normative sense. Given this, what then should atheism be? Alternatively, what should an atheist be?
Given the analytic component surveyed earlier, an atheist could adhere to any of the following theories: default atheism, natural atheism, or pluralistic atheism. Default atheism makes use of deductive atheology and cites that since the arguments for god fail, god cannot exist. Or such an atheist could state that since there’s no evidence for god, god doesn’t exist. They are therefore an atheist by default. Natural atheism, on the other hand, piggybacks on naturalism. Since all empirical explanations are naturalistic, the supernatural doesn’t factor into what she believes in. She is therefore a natural atheist.
Pluralistic atheism is what I want to offer. If any of the above methodologies or positions sound familiar to you, it’s because atheists are a diverse group of people that, in fact, employ some of these methodologies and therefore, adopt such positions. They will therefore have diverse ways of grounding their atheism, if such a project even interests them. Default atheists, for example, might not care enough about the question. Others not only care about the question of god, but they also care about what results from belief in god; given this, they make an effort to justify their non-belief in such entities. Pluralistic atheism therefore makes some use of every method discussed above. It doesn’t favor deductive over inductive atheology or vice versa. It can and very often does incorporate naturalism into its justification. It can and does invoke fallibilism in discussions with theists.
So given this, the question of what atheism is is answered by what atheism should be. Since pluralism incorporates naturalism, the question of natural atheism is essentially the combination of those questions. That is to say that what atheism is is identical to what atheism should be. On naturalism and therefore, on pluralism, the question of what atheism is is clearly answered once we consider what atheism should be.
Atheism should be more than the lack of belief in gods. It should also, by extension, be the lack of belief in the authority of religious texts, the efficacy of rituals, the purported existence of metaphysical entities such as angels and transcendent ancestors, magic, and even aspects of religious culture. Given the latter, atheists shouldn’t wear some traditional attire. The other items are pretty straightforward. The reason they’re straightforward goes back to our analytic component.
If the arguments for god fail or if naturalism is true or if a theist has incomplete knowledge and thus a false conclusion, we have good reason to reject the entirety of the system they’re offering. If we reject the Judeo-Christian god, then we are compelled to reject the Judeo-Christian portraits of heaven and hell along with the entities said to reside in these places. We must also reject the so called power of prayer and the utility of fasting. Also, given the authority of science and the evidence it has presented us with, the purported authority of the Bible becomes suspect. It is more suspect still when one considers what history tells us. Therefore, atheism should be and therefore is the lack of belief in gods and anything that may be tied to them: religious texts, rituals, metaphysical entities and places, and cultural aspects.
What I’ve attempted to do here is show that analytic atheism entails normative atheism. This is the case because on pluralism, naturalism is featured. Natural atheism, like natural law, answers the questions of analytic and normative atheism as one. The question of analytic jurisprudence is what is law whilst the question of normative jurisprudence is what should the law be. A natural law theory like, for instance, Leibniz’s will answer both questions simultaneously. This, I have argued, is what happens with atheism.
Atheism is the default position. Belief is like an achieved rather than ascribed status. At birth, you are either a son or daughter; this status is ascribed. The status of Christian is achieved given that one has to go through some motions to become one–e.g. baptism. Atheism, on the other hand, is like an ascribed status. At birth, you are neither Christian nor Muslim nor Hindu. These labels may be given to you by devout parents, but they aren’t true given that you have no way of formulating a sophisticated worldview. Atheism is also the natural position. Given naturalism, gods cannot feature into any explanation in and of the universe. One can, of course, offer ad hoc rationalization, but this is not parsimonious. It adds to an explanation that is already complete. Therefore, given natural atheism and consequently pluralistic atheism, what atheism is is exactly what atheism should be. If we answer the latter, we answer the former.
1 McCormick, Matt. “Atheism”. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. ND. Web. 21 Dec 2014.
2 Mackie, J. L. 1955. Evil and omnipotence. Mind 64 (254): 200-212. Available on web.
3 Ibid. 
4 Smart, J.J.C. “Atheism and Agnosticism”. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 9 Mar 2004. Web. 21 Dec 2014.
5 Martin, Michael, 1990. Atheism: A Philosophical Justification. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990.
6 Arthur Fine as quoted in Ritchie, Jack. Understanding Naturalism. Stocksfield, England: Acumen, 2008. 97. Print.
7 Ibid. 
8 Ibid. 
9 Ferguson, Matthew. “Thinking about the ‘Metaphysics’ in Metaphysical Naturalism”. Civitas Humana. 26 Apr 2014. Web. 21 Dec 2014.
10 Carrier, Richard. Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism. Bloomington, Ind.: Authorhouse, 2005. 67. Print.
11 Ibid. 
12 “Tibetan Buddhism”. BBC. 14 Jan 2004. Web. 21 Dec 2014.
13 Ibid. 
By R.N. Carmona
Alvin Plantinga, a renowned reformed philosopher and theologian, likely has more than the two theodicies discussed here. These two theodicies, however, are a common route for theists to take. The first defense is no doubt familiar to the reader: the Free Will defense. The second defense is also familiar, but is less relied upon: this defense, for our purposes, will be called the Ignorance defense.
Plantinga’s Free Will defense fails for two reasons, but prior to demonstrating this, a fair treatment of his defense must be granted. So we will first look at what his defense is. HIs defense relies on two assumptions. He also has a set of possible worlds, one of which we’ll consider. HIs first assumption is as follows:
(MSR1) God’s creation of persons with morally significant free will is something of tremendous value. God could not eliminate much of the evil and suffering in this world without thereby eliminating the greater good of having created persons with free will with whom he could have relationships and who are able to love one another and do good deeds.1
MSR1, on the surface, makes sense. It’s plausible that this is the reason the Judeo-Christian god allows evil. MSR1, however, is based on a problematic version of free will, namely Libertarian free will. Libertarianism can be defined as the “view that seeks to protect the reality of human ‘free will by supposing that a free choice is not causally determined but not random either.’”2 As commentary, Blackburn states, that “[w]hat is needed is the conception of a rational, responsible intervention in the ongoing course of events”. He adds that “[i]n some developments a special category of agent-causation is posited, but its relationship with the neurophysiological working of the brain and body, or indeed any moderately naturalistic view of ourselves, tends to be very uneasy, and it is frequently derided as the desire to protect the fantasy of an agency situated outside the realm of nature altogether.”3 This statement implies Cartesian dualism, which is too tangential for our purposes. Whether or not Cartesian dualism helps the case for Libertarian free will, or whether or not it is necessary to make sense of such free will shouldn’t occupy us here.
Libertarian free will is itself questionable. Michael Tooley with the University of Colorado writes:
One problem with an appeal to libertarian free will is that no satisfactory account of the concept of libertarian free will is yet available. Thus, while the requirement that, in order to be free in the libertarian sense, an action not have any cause that lies outside the agent is unproblematic, this is obviously not a sufficient condition, since this condition would be satisfied if the behavior in question was caused by random events within the agent. So one needs to add that the agent is, in some sense, the cause of the action. But how is the causation in question to be understood? Present accounts of the metaphysics of causation typically treat causes as states of affairs. If, however, one adopts such an approach, then it seems that all that one has when an action is freely done, in the libertarian sense, is that there is some uncaused mental state of the agent that causally gives rise to the relevant behavior, and why freedom, thus understood, should be thought valuable, is far from clear.4
He adds that the Libertarian can make a switch from event-causation to agent-causation, but there’s no cogent account for agent-causation either. This harkens back to Blackburn’s sentiments.
Plantinga discusses four possible worlds, the third of which is the most important, which is W1. It looks as follows:
(a) God creates persons with morally significant free will
(b) God does not causally determine people in every situation to choose what is right and to avoid what is wrong and
© There is evil and suffering in W1.5
If god exists, this is precisely the kind of world we seem to live in. Plantinga’s defense is that god couldn’t eliminate evil without infringing upon our choices and by extension, what good might come of them. Plantinga, in this vein, states:
A world containing creatures who are sometimes significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create free creatures, but he cannot cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if he does so, then they are not significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, he must create creatures capable of moral evil; and he cannot leave these creatures free to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so…. The fact that these free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against his goodness; for he could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by excising the possibility of moral good. (Plantinga 1974, pp. 166-167)6
That a world where humans have Libertarian free will is more valuable than one without that is dubious. Plantinga can’t purport to know what such a world would look like. Furthermore, if we are to take predestination seriously, verses like Psalm 139:16 have to be squared with Plantinga’s account of free will. The context of that verse seems to imply we don’t have free will. There is, if that verse and another which will be discussed shortly are to be believed, a celestial determinism if you will. Consider, for example, Exodus 9:12. There is no sense in which Pharaoh was free to listen. His heart was hardened by god; god, in other words, violates stipulation (b) in W1.
So it appears, on the theist’s view, that we live in a world that resembles W1, but differs in a significant way. God sometimes causally determines our moral decisions. Given Libertarian free will and predestination, which was briefly discussed here, Plantinga’s Free Will defense is inadequate.
Another reason it fails is because it focuses on human-driven evil and not natural evil. To cover this base, Plantinga deploys MSR2, which states that “God allowed natural evil to enter the world as part of Adam and Eve’s punishment for their sin in the Garden of Eden.”7 This is textually, historically, and even scientifically dubious. This too is also too tangential for our purposes. Suffice it to say that here Plantinga presupposes Christian theology to defend Christianity. MSR2 is, at best, unsubstantiated and at worst, false. The burden of proof is then on Plantinga to demonstrate that Genesis 3 is a factual, historical account. It isn’t enough to believe that it happened or to assert that it best explains human nature. These predilections are rooted in the very theology Plantinga is attempting to defend. These statements simply beg the question.
We will now turn to Plantinga’s Ignorance defense. We will note here that he himself doesn’t call it the Ignorance defense. We will call it that given the fact that it relies on our ignorance to work. In other words, the defense states that since our wisdom is incomparable to god’s, we can’t know why he allows evil. Moreover, since it’s reasonable that he has some reason—no doubt unknown to us—for allowing evil, we can’t reasonably blame god for the evil in the world. Let us turn to some of Plantinga’s explications. Kai Nielsen states:
Plantinga grants that, as far as we can see, there are many cases of evil that are apparently pointless. Indeed there are many cases of such evils where we have no idea at all what reason God (if there is such a person) could have for permitting such evils. But, Plantinga remarks, from granting these things it does not follow that “an omnipotent and omniscient God, if he existed, would not have a reason for permitting them” (Plantinga 1993, 400). From the fact that we can see no reason at all for God to permit evils, we cannot legitimately infer that God has no reason to allow such evils. It is not just, Plantinga continues, “obvious or apparent that God could have reason for permitting them. The most we can sensibly say is that we can’t think of any good reason why he would permit them” (Plantinga 1993, 400).8
This, in a nutshell, is the Ignorance defense. We are, in other words, ignorant of god’s will and our wisdom pales in comparison to his. Nielsen, however, has the makings of a perfect counter. All that’s needed is to see his counter from the point of view of one of god’s attributes. Nielsen states that “it looks more like, if he exists and is all powerful and all knowing, that then he more likely to be evil.” He adds that “we see that all the same he might possibly be, as Jewish, Christian, and Islamic religions say he is, perfectly good. But we cannot see that he is. The Mosaic God looks, to understate it, petty, unjust, and cruel to us.”9 This counter is made perfect if we see this from the point of view of god’s omniscience. God would know that we would be unable to see that he is good in light of natural evil. This evil is, in fact, gratuitous. God would have seen, in his omniscience, that the quantity of natural evil in the world would be enough to drive so many to doubt. This apart from contradictory revelations, the limited range and capacity of Christianity, i.e., it’s capacity to appeal to people of other cultures, and the negative evidence against the existence of the Judeo-Christian god. We are then asked “to stick with a belief in what we see to be some kind of possibility, namely that God is, after all, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, perfectly good.”10 Like Nielsen, however, I see this as an obstinate appeal to the very faith that needs to be substantiated. Furthermore, I see this as an implied superiority of faith over reason. Like Galileo, who no doubt said this with a different sentiment, I “do not feel obliged to believe that same God who endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect had intended for us to forgo their use.” There are other reasons showing that reason is superior to faith, especially since the former is the agreed upon approach in all aspects of life except religion. Nielsen discusses this at length, but that’s not exactly germane to this discussion.
Though we’ve called it the Ignorance defense, Plantinga does argue that we can be privy to god’s reasons for allowing evil (Plantinga 1993, 400-401). This, unfortunately, relies on revelation and is thus, dubious. No amount of revelation can make one privy to all instances of evil in the world—both human-driven and natural. God, for example, isn’t keen on revealing to believers why a forest fire leads to the suffering and deaths of the animals in that ecosystem. This, in fact, seems to be of little concern given putative revelations in the Abrahamic faiths. God, given, for instance, the Book of Job, seems intent on justifying the existence of and need for human-driven evil. Plantinga employs the Book of Job in his defense. This, like the previous defense, is problematic. Given history and textual criticism, the Book of Job is mired with problems. We would, again, have to lean on an obstinate faith to consider it a good supplement to any theodicy or to see it as a theodicy all its own.
The Problem of Evil, especially when adding the element of gratuitous evil, remains an outstanding problem for theism. There is no cogent theodicy or defense against it, Plantinga notwithstanding. The Free Will and Ignorance defenses fail for a number reason—most prominent of which being the groundless presuppositions underlying the arguments. This is to say nothing of the Leibnizian best possible world and defenses in that vein. Theodicies warrant fuller treatment and this has indeed been done. What we have, unfortunately, is one party who refuses to read what the opposition has to say. This is why some plainly and no doubt, hyperbolically, assert that solutions have been offered for centuries. These purported solutions have also been scrutinized as has been briefly sketched out here. The Problem of Evil can be likened to a hemophiliac’s wound. Theodicies notwithstanding, theists haven’t stopped the bleeding.
1 Beebe, James R. “Logical Problem of Evil”. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. ND. Web. 3 Jan 2015.
2 Blackburn, Simon. The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1994. 208-209. Print.
3 Ibid. 
4 Tooley, Michael. “The Problem of Evil”. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2012. Web. 3 Jan 2015.
5 Ibid. 
6 Plantinga, Alvin as quoted in Ibid. 
7 Ibid. 
8 Nielsen, Kai. Naturalism and Religion. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 2001. 303-304. Print.
9 Ibid. , p.308
10 Ibid.