Archives For Existence of God

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(Read Part 1: “The Problem of Pain”  and Part 2: “Possible, Painful Worlds”)

In response to the question of evil and the existence of possible worlds, a number of possibilities have been proposed.

First, would it have been better for God not to have created this world?  If He knew that evil would be present, perhaps He should not have created anything; in fact, He may have been morally obligated not to create this world if He knew there would be pain and suffering.

In response, theists have noted the idea of making a moral comparison between No World and Any World at all is nonsensical.  Norman Geisler says this is a category mistake, because “nothing” and “something” have nothing in common. Comparing a morally bad world and no world at all is like comparing rotten apples with non-existent oranges.

C.S. Lewis believed comparing being and non-being was just a word game, an argument that carryied no weight or significance. To Lewis, the more important issue was the reconciliation of the world as it is with the character and nature of God.

 A second possibility is that God could have created a world where people freely choose to do good every time they have a choice.  Given all possible worlds, there must be at least one world where every person freely chooses to do right every time; hence, this world is not the best.  A crucial aspect of this debate is the theory of middle knowledge.  This is the idea that God knows every choice in every situation of every possible free creature. The Jesuits called this “middle knowledge” because it is somewhere between God’s knowledge of the possible and the actual.

The Jesuit priest Luis Molina separated God’s knowledge into three categories:  natural knowledge, free knowledge, and middle knowledge.   Building from Molina, proponents of the “middle knowledge” theory argue that  God knows what a free creature could do (natural knowledge) and will do (middle knowledge) in any given situation, not because He creates circumstances that causally determine what the free creature will do, but because he knows how the creature will freely choose.

God knows that Agent X, placed in circumstance Y, will freely perform action Z.  (References in the Bible that appear to support this theory include 1 Samuel 23:6-13 and Matthew 11:20-24, where God provides information about what would have happened had a given situation occurred.)

The atheodicist can use this argument as well.  Using this theory as a base, why not argue that God, through middle knowledge, could have brought  about people he knew would always choose good?  And since He didn’t, well, we are back to our original critique.

Alvin Plantinga addresses this issue by submitting his theory concerning transworld depravity.  If there is middle knowledge,  God may have known in advance is that significantly free people would always commit at least one wrong action, no matter their world or circumstance.

God could have created a world where no one chooses to do moral evil, but then that would not be a world with free people.  Perhaps God has even actualized a world populated by people who, in spite of the horrors that have been committed, make the fewest possible wrong choices in any possible world  which contains free will. Hitler committed some of the world’s most horrible atrocities; is it possible that in every other world Hitler would have committed at least the same amount of evil?  And even if Hitler had not, perhaps someone else would have brought about the same horrors, if not more horrific ones.

Robert Adams – who believes universal transworld depravity is implausible – agrees with Plantinga that perhaps God could not create free creatures who would always choose to do moral good.  He also does not believe that God exercises middle knowledge, which adds an element of guesswork into God’s’ creation. However, Adams still believes that the existence of free will, which requires possibilities from which to choose, suggest the implausibility of a possible world of human perfection.

In fact, the idea of God creating only people who always freely choose good may in essence take away the idea of freedom.

In a world with true freedom of choice, God cannot actualize a scenario in which free people always will choose good any more than He could actualize a square circle; it is logically impossible.  If free will is true and genuine, God cannot make a world that forces a freely chosen decision in a contradictory direction. So once again, while this world seems to be theoretically desirable, there is much doubt that it could be actualized. Continue Reading…

Assuming the weather held up, the Reason Rally took place today. (Read more about the rally here, and an organized Christian response here.)  There are a lot of  people commenting about this event; as you might expect when the atheism/theism debate takes center stage on a national level, there is a lot to say.  From the conclusion of a post called “Logic and the Art of Reason Rallies”:
“My point is not to contrast irrational atheism with rational faith.  There are plenty of irrational people of faith, unfortunately, which is one reason I teach a logic class at a Christian school.  I merely intend to point out that no one owns the domain of rationality.  We can all be involved whether we claim faith or not.
Perhaps we could cover much more ground if we could agree that people from a huge range of worldviews have the ability to think rationally.  At the most basic level of reasonable discourse, we ask if the reasoning of an argument is valid.  
If the answer is “yes” – if conclusions logically follow from premises –  perhaps the debate can move more quickly to the soundness of the different premises contained in worldview systems.  If all parties are brave enough to look at themselves and their arguments honestly – and the ways in which they all think – then we have nothing to fear from a pursuit of the truth.”

The Problem of Pain

Anthony Weber —  March 16, 2012 — 3 Comments

The problem of suffering and pain in a world that the theist claims has been created by an all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing God has long been a flashpoint in the debate surrounding God’s nature and existence. The argument about the mere presence of evil pushes the limits of human history (i.e. Job), but the escalated horrors of the 20th century, specifically the Holocaust, have brought the debate about the magnitude of the problem to the forefront now more than ever.

Interestingly, the problem of pain was not a serious threat to Christian thought until the last several centuries; suffering has only recently been seen as a ground for final skepticism rather than an incentive for inquiry. When Descartes and other theologians began to discuss the existence of God by stressing philosophy and reason rather than the person of Christ, they opened the door to a new room of argument.

The problem of evil – specifically, the claim that the existence of evil necessitates or at least argues strongly for the non-existence of God – has been formulated on two different levels.  The most foundational question is if the existence of God and the existence of evil are compatible.   A different approach grants that God and evil may exist, but questions what kind of God would allow the apparently gratuitous pain we see in the world.  

Though there is some variation in the formulation, the Logical Problem of Evil (LPE) can be stated as follows: 

God exists, and is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good.  

This is logically inconsistent with the idea that evil exists, because a perfectly good being would want to eliminate evil, and an all powerful being would eliminate evil.  

Evil exists; therefore, God does not exist. Continue Reading…

“‘If God is dead, all is permitted,’ Dostoevsky said. 

Westerners, particularly Protestant Westerners, instinctively translate that into a statement about authority.  If God is dead, there are no rules, no laws, to keep us in check. But Protestants, especially, should see the folly of that conclusion.  Law never kept anyone in check anyway – Paul taught us that. 

Dostoevsky was more likely talking about desire.  If God is dead, there is no final object of desire, no final and full satisfaction, no magnet of infinite good toward which we are drawn.  If God is dead, desire has no direction or order, but goes every which way.  If God is dead, everything can seem desirable, and so can nothing.”

– Peter J. Leithart, in Touchstone

This is Part 4 in a series on Arguments for God’s Existence.  Read Part 1 (cosmological),  part 2 (teleological), and part 3 (moral). 

The Ontological Argument attempts to arrive at the reality of God from the idea of God. This argument was first articulated by Anselm (Proslogian, chapters 2-3), who is credited with formulating the core of the ultimate idea of deity.[1]  He presented his argument in two different forms.  The first forms states that God is a being “something than which nothing greater (more perfect) can be conceived”; there is no reality beyond him to which he is inferior.[2]  Things existing in reality are greater than things existing in the mind only; therefore God must exist in reality, or he would not be the greatest possible being.  In other words, since God exists in our minds, he must exist in reality as well, since it would be absurd to be able to think of something that is greater than that which nothing greater can be conceived.

The second form states that God is a necessary being, not a contingent being, since a necessary being is greater and truer than a contingent one. One must affirm what is necessary in a Necessary Being, and existence is logically necessary in a Necessary Being; therefore, a Necessary Being necessarily exists.

By way of analogy, Gaunilo of Marmoutier argued that Anselm must be wrong, because the argument could lead to a perfect anything, not just a perfect God.[3]  Gaunilo said it was absurd to believe that since he could conceive of an island than which nothing greater can be conceived, this island must exist.  Anselm replied that since the island was contingent (its non-existence is conceivable), the analogy was false.  Overall, though Gaunilo asked some interesting questions, he did not nullify Anselm’s argument.

Rene Descartes later offered a slightly adjusted argument: one must logically affirm what is essential to the nature of an object; existence is logically necessary in something that necessarily exists; therefore, one must affirm that a necessary existent does exist.[4] Continue Reading…