Archive for October, 2008
An agnostic opening post and my rebuttal. The debate can be found here.
“I was a Christian only as a young teenager. Eventually I left the faith, but since that time the issues of religion have always been of importance to me. I became increasingly interested in comparative religious studies, and in philosophy, science, and history insofar as they related to questions about God, right and wrong, etc. I gradually became very comfortable as an atheist and then later as a naturalist. But over the last year I’ve pulled back and my position is much less declarative than it used to be.
To this day I do not feel uncomfortable saying with a very strong degree of conviction that none of the gods of contemporary organized religion exist. I still view all Abrahamic religions as false. But what I no longer believe is that we can show that atheism is true – atheism defined as the position that there is no such thing as a god. I know plenty of people on these forums do not define atheism that way; instead, they define atheism as ‘lack of belief in a god’. I don’t want this discussion to turn into a debate over semantics, so let me just say that if you so strongly object to me defining atheism as “the position that there is no such thing as a god”, then just reinterpret it to say “strong atheism” or “positive atheism” or whatever term you use to signify that position.
The reason for why I no longer believe that atheism is a rationally warranted position is because I think that there are conceptions of God that are not in any sense as anthropomorphic as the God of Abraham, and as such these conceptions of God aren’t shown to be false by arguments from evil or divine hiddenness (or other traditional arguments), since these arguments depend upon the idea that God has a certain set of desires that we do not necessarily have to suppose that God actually has. These arguments for atheism show, in my opinion, that “God” as imagined from the perspective of Christianity or Islam does not exist. But what if we understood God differently?
God: a being responsible for the creation of the universe not bound by natural law, who belongs to an ontological category that is distinct from the “natural” – i.e. this being is “supernatural”.
Here, we have a God who has no concern for human affairs, who interacts either very, very little or not at all with our universe. I do not think that the arguments meant to demonstrate that atheism is true have shown that we should suppose that a God defined in the above way does not exist.
We can suggest other possible characteristics for this being – such as, maybe, the idea that it has always existed – that it is infinitely old, that things like “birth” and “death” do not apply to it in the way that such things apply to us and the world around us. But at the same time, this need not be the case. It’s sufficient that this being is supernatural in origin and responsible for the creation of our universe. If tomorrow we woke up and scientists in some way discovered that this was true, I imagine that everyone who was a self-described atheist would feel that they had been very much mistaken about things.
So, again, my concern is that traditional atheistic arguments amount to a failure. They do not demonstrate that there is no such thing as god, even though they may give us a very strong degree of conviction in the idea that a god as envisioned by traditional organized religion isn’t real.
I think your argument is interesting but fallacious. Since you did not do so, I will request that you try to formalize the argument for two reasons: 1) to establish validity, and 2) to add clarity. Seemingly good and sound arguments sometimes rest on a hidden confusion.
Your take is that positive atheism is the affirmation of at least one the propositions below:
PA. All concepts of ‘god’ are non-existent.
PA’. All possible concepts of ‘god’ are non-existent.
The above is not what I understand by positive atheism, but I don’t want to discuss the semantics in here per your request.
The problem is that you seem to think that any stipulative definition of ‘god’ ought to be accepted and, therefore, if someone stipulatively defines ‘god’ as ‘a tomato’ PA and PA’ would be false.
I don’t think anyone holds this position. There are two ways out of this:
1. Don’t hold universal atheism
2. Don’t accept all definitions of ‘god’.
I take the first way. I don’t hold that all concepts or all possible (infinite amount) concepts of ‘god’ are non-existent. I only claim that some god concepts are non-existent e.g. the Abrahamic and your deistic one above. I can give arguments for this position if you wish.
The second route is to not accept any definition of ‘god’. Some people think that one always ought to accept a definition, but I don’t. I think that all people have prima facie reason to accept any definition. A prima facie reason is a justification that is strong enough to imply that one is justified in holding whatever attitude it justifies, but not enough if there is any reason against the position. I think there is reason against accepting all concepts of ‘god’. The word ‘god’ already has a meaning (as any other established word) even though that meaning is vague, it is certainly not ‘a tomato’, so I can reject that definition. I think that the necessarily condition of god concepts is that of ‘a supreme being’ which is intentionally vague. This implies, e.g., that I don’t accept pantheistic definitions of ‘god’.”
I have recently discussed whether omnipotence and omniscience are incompatible i.e. a being cannot have both properties at the same time. Much of the discussion was centered around an argument I invented some time ago. But before we look at the argument, we need to clarify what it meant by the concepts used. The important concepts employed are omnipotence, omniscience and ‘possible’. Possible will be discussed later in the paper than the other two.
the-incompatibility-of-omnipotence-and-omniscience, PDF, 8 pages
Solving the pink and invisible problem
Normally most people that know of the Invisible Pink Unicorn (henceforth, IPU) believe that it cannot logically exist, because pink and invisible are inconsistent, but I think that I found a solution.
The problem lies in the definition of ‘invisible’. Normally, one would probably define it as “that which cannot be seen” and then implying that what cannot be seen emits/reflects no light which contradicts pink meaning “that which emits/reflects light at some particular wave length”.
However, being inspired by a certain Mr. Potters cloak, I discovered another plausible definition of ‘invisible’ which is “that which looks like the environment, so that any observer cannot detect it, as anything other than the environment in which the entity is”. This in conjunction with the essential thesis (discussed below) implies that the IPU can only, logically possible, be in pink environments.
The essential thesis
The essential thesis is a view about what the IPU is. More specifically, what it essentially is. The essential thesis holds that the IPU is essentially invisible, pink, a horseoid and has only one horn. A things essence is the set of properties which the thing cannot lack, for if it did, it would not be the thing we are talking about. The essential thesis has some relevance for the next question.
How is the IPU able to act in a non-pink world?
This deals not with how the IPU does it, but how it is able to do so, without contradicting logic. One plausible theory, called the instant transformation theory claims that the IPU is very keen on changing the environment. If the IPU wants to go a place that is not currently pink, the IPU changes the environment to pink for an infinitesimal amount of time. This allows the IPU to move to the place, do whatever it wants to do (and do so very quickly), and change the environment back into its normal colors.
This theory is being disputed by followers of another theory, called the constant change theory. This theory asserts that the IPU is constantly changing the environment into pink and then back again before anyone notices it. This way, the IPU can almost stay in an area. For instance, it would choose two blocks. Make block (a) pink, move there, make block (b) pink, move there, restore block (a), act, make block (a) pink and move there while restoring block (b) etc.
This is an important discussion within the IPU thinkers circle. Another new theory challenges these two by asserting that the IPU is not essentially pink, but only mostly. This way, it does not have to change the environment at all. Obviously, such a theory has evoked much criticism from followers of the two others theories.
The nature of pinkness
Another very important topic in IPUlogy is the nature of pinkness. It deals primarily with the question of what pink is. Most people believe that pink is property, and most also agree that its a divine property. However, a small fraction of IPUers believe that pink can also be an object which can exist independently of another object. The primary reason for denying this is that it conflicts with the belief that true pinkness is reserved only for the IPU.
I have successfully defended the IPU against attacks from vicious nonbelievers and elaborated on some of the exciting topics in IPUlogy.
Most of us already know what theism is, but I will repeat it here for clarity. Theism is a set of beliefs in a supreme being that created the world, is active p.t. and has some interest in humans. This is usually contrasted with deism, which is a set of beliefs that a supreme being created the world but is no longer active in it and often does not concern itself with the problems of humanity.
The supreme being is often characterized as being omnipotent and omniscient.
It is often not stated in the definition of theism, that this supreme being is good, so I take it that it is not an essential part of the definition of theism. By evil theism I mean the set of beliefs in an evil supreme being. Good theism is, of course, the belief in a good theistic being. In this paper I will present a case for justified belief in some varieties of evil theism.
It is clear from the various inconsistency arguments against traditional theism that omnipotent and omniscient beings are logically impossible, and even more so for the being that is also all-good or good because of the problem of evil. It is interesting to note that an omnipotent, omniscient and all-evil is subject to the reverse argument: The argument from good. It goes, somewhat paradoxically, that the existence of good is proof that evil theism of that sort is false.
In this paper I will assume that there are no sound objections to this argument, but note that the Augustian defense is especially interesting for evil theism. It claims that, not evil, but good is the absence of evil and not an object or “genuine” property.
So, given the above the evil theistic being I have in mind is neither omnipotent nor omniscient. It’s not necessarily all-evil either. I also note that it is possible that there are multiple evil beings, thus evil polytheism. Omnipotence also seems problematic with multiple omnipotent beings, so there is another reason to avoid omnipotence.
Essential to evil theism is, of course, that the being is evil. But what does evil mean? I understand evil to mean the lack of caring for humans and, stronger, the hate against humans. Good is not defined in any particular way in this paper.
Prior to presenting the arguments I will note which types of argumentation I will employ. I do not intend to use strictly deductive or even inductive arguments, but apply evil theism as an explanation i.e. a theory. This is what is usually called abductive reasoning or inference to the best explanation.
I want to make the case that evil theism better explains certain facts than relevant alternatives. This is usually interpreted to mean that the probably of some facts given evil theism is higher than given the relevant alternatives. This is written as P(f|et) > P(f|ra). P means “the probability of that”, f is the facts, et is evil theism and ra is relevant alternative. It’s not possible to actually compute the probabilities, because the factors are indeterminate, but this is not a problem for reasoning.
Now, I will present the evidence. This list of evidence is not exhausting.
The existence of famine is much more probable given evil theism than non-theism. Given non-theism there is no particular reason for why famine should exist. There is a natural cause of famine, evolution. This is because evolution works by natural selection in which beings fight for the available resources. Food is one such resource. Given evolution, famine is probable. The thing is now to realize that non-theism has no relevance to famine and thus the factor of non-theism is 1, which equals no change. The evolution factor is larger than 1 and thus increases the probability of famine. Evil theism also predicts famine, because the evil being(s) want humans to suffer, and famine causes great suffering. Evolution is consistent with both non-theism and evil theism, but the conjunction of evil theism and evolution is a much better explanation than evolution alone and evolution and non-theism (they have the same value). Famine seems not to favor evil polytheism or monotheism.
Similar to the above reasoning, one could argue with egoism. Egoism also causes a lot of suffering, and causes famine. An evil being would want egoism to exist. Egoism is also probable given evolution but even more so given evolution and evil theism. Again, it seems to be the case that this fact does not favor evil polytheism or monotheism.
The unfriendliness of space
A human cannot live very long in outer space1. Indeed, life in general (excluding certain microbiological lifeforms) do not survive very well in space. This unfriendliness of space is better explained by evil-theism and evolution than evolution and non-theism. Evolution does not favor beings that can survive in space, assuming that it gives no survival value. Evolution does favor that life evolves to fit to the conditions on Earth, but does not explain why the difference in conditions between the Earth and outer space are so great. Evil theism explains this because that the evil beings know that humans want to travel to outer space, so when they cannot, they become unhappy, which is what the evil beings want. Again, we conclude like the above that evil theism in conjunction with evolution (or science in general) better explains the facts than evolution and non-theism.
Above I have outlined the reasoning used to justify evil theism as an explanation. Similar argumentation could be made with viruses, parasites, bacteria, natural disasters etc. The list goes on!
Objections and answers
In this section I want to outline some objections to evil theism and some possible answers to them.
Objection 1 – it could be worse
The objection goes like this: Conceded, things are quite evil, but things could be much worse. This seems improbable with evil theism. There are many possible answers. E.g. maybe there are multiple evil beings competing to harm humans, maybe the evil beings are not strong enough, maybe the evil beings are not evil enough and maybe the evil beings have some sort of quota which they need to fill, but once it is filled, there need not be any more suffering. The first answer clearly favors evil polytheism. It might be objected that the amount of humans have increased over time and more have come to suffer. To this, the evil polytheist could respond that maybe there has also been an increase in the amount of evil beings, and these require a higher amount of humans to fulfill their needs.
Objection 2 – the theory has poor predictive abilities
The objection goes like this: The theory has poor predictive abilities like Newtonian physics and therefore it is a bad explanation. The answer is simple. Yes, it does have poor predictive power, but that does not imply that it is a bad theory. There is a propositional difficulty with predicting things when the complexity of the situation increases. Evil theism sets out to explain very complex data and thus is not very precise in its predictions. However, this is also true of evolution which is a very credible theory. Also, I’d like to make a few predictions with evil theism:
Given evil polytheism and the breeding hypothesis, then we should expect to see more suffering in the world. Probably with the addition of an increased amount of humans.
I have explained what evil theism is. I have explained the methodology of the arguments I employ for evil theism. I conclude that I have demonstrated that evil theism does have explanatory power which is better than non-theism. I have showed this using real world examples. I have given possible answers to two objections to evil theism. I conclude, that evil theism is a reasonable position to take, may it be evil polytheism or monotheism, though the data seems to slightly support polytheism better.