Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Axiological-Ontological Argument

1. A world in which God exists is better than a world in which God does not exist. (Premise)

2. Better/worse relations are only veridical if the referents of those relations possibly exist. (Premise)

3. Hence, God possibly exists. (From 1 and 2)

4. Therefore, God exists. (From 3 and S5)

The inference from (3) to (4) entails the usual unpacking that the ontological argument provides. I'm having a hard time coming up with any good objections to either (1) or (2), but maybe I'm overlooking something.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

What Counts as Evidence for God?

In the past few weeks, I have witnessed philosophers, William Lane Craig and Victor Reppert, focus in on a specific atheistic charge: "there is no evidence that God exists." Their response is certainly in line with that of Richard Swinburne and his concept of a correct C-inductive argument. Let's give a few examples:

If God exists, a world with fine-tuning is more likely to exist than a world without fine-tuning.

If God exists, a world in which we recognize objective laws of logic, science, morality, and aesthetics is more likely to exist than a world without such recognition.

If God exists, a world in which contingent being have external causes is more likely to exist than a world in which they do not have external causes.

If God exists, a world in which the miraculous occurs is more likely to exist than a world in which there are no miracles.

Of course, the absence of these characteristics is not conclusive evidence that God does not exist, either. And, that's what it comes down to. Perhaps what the atheist should say is not that there is no evidence that God exists, but rather that there is no conclusive evidence that God exists. However, even that doesn't seem to be much of a claim for atheism. For, it could still be more plausible that God exists than not, even if the evidence is not conclusive per se. So, let's revise this some more. What the atheist should ultimately be saying is that there is no compelling evidence that God exists.*

For any fact X, if X's instantiation makes God's existence more plausible than it would be the case if ~X is instantiated, then the fact of X counts as evidence that God exists. Whether X provides us with conclusive or compelling evidence that God exists is moot.

*This still isn't enough to justify atheism, though, in any traditional sense of the term, "atheism." What the atheist would need to show is not only that there is no compelling evidence that God exists, but also that there is compelling evidence that God does not exist. The former would only justify non-theistic alternatives, such as agnosticism.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Universe Governed By Law

In a world where God exists and has designed the universe, we would expect the universe to be governed by certain laws: logical, mathematical, scientific, moral, and even aesthetic. Given that our universe is governed by such laws, this is inductive evidence that God exists, to say nothing of deductive arguments (e.g. the conceptualist argument).

The Atlantic, a political magazine I have recently subscribed to and have enjoyed quite a bit thus far, features an article by Judith Lewis Mernit in its June edition. The article, "Is San Francisco Next?," discusses the manner in which seismologists predict earthquakes. Now, what is the connection between these first two paragraphs I've just written?

Mernit comments, "Some established geophysicists insist that all earthquakes are random, yet everyone agrees that aftershocks are not. Instead, they follow certain empirical laws." This raises an important question: does our ignorance of what the law-like mechanism behind earthquakes are imply that there are no such laws? To treat Mernit's statement as if she is answering in the affirmative would be, I think, uncharitable. After all, much of the article subsequently goes on to explain what the mechanisms that cause earthquakes (and how we can predict them) might be.

For example, Mernit points out that "[r]ocks can be subject to two kinds of stresses" that result in earthquakes (clamping and shearing). Obviously, rocks and other physical objects are subject to laws of nature (gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak atomic forces are most fundamental to the universe), and so it would be hasty for the reader to conclude that geophysicists are talking about earthquakes being entirely devoid of laws.

The conclusion we should draw from this example is that ignorance of law (an epistemological issue) does not at all imply the absence of law (a metaphysical issue). I just worry that some readers may take "random" to mean "devoid of law," which simply isn't the case. In my mind it's more hyperbole than anything else.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Williame Rowe's Evidential Version of the Problem of Suffering, Plus the Ontological Argument Once More

William Rowe, like most philosophers of religion today, rejects the notion that "God exits" is logically incompatible with pain and suffering. I will delve into the logical problem of suffering at a later time, but for now I want to focus on the implications of Rowe's argument. "God" is to be understood not only as a Creator/Designer/Sustainer of the universe, but as a maximally great being (all-powerful, all-knowing, and morally perfect). Rowe himself argues like this:

1. Pain and suffering exist. (Premise)

2. If God exists, we would most likely know what the morally sufficient reasons God has for allowing pain and suffering are. (Premise)

3. We do not know what the morally sufficient reasons are. (Premise (3)

4. Therefore, God most likely does not exist. (From 1 - 3)

Again, Rowe isn't arguing in favor of atheism. Even if he is correct above, there could still exist a very powerful personal Creator, and so forth. Rowe is only arguing against God as a maximally great being.

First, the theist could challenge any of the premises. Premise (1) should be granted because of its perspicuity. (3) is debatable. The Free Will Defense serves as a refutation that we do not know why God would allow pain and suffering. I don't want to focus on this too much at this time, though. I'm much more interested in (2).

It has become almost a mantra among some of our secular friends that evidence is needed in order to conclude that something exists. As much as I disagree with this, it may be granted for the sake of argument. For instance, suppose that you are accused of a crime and all the available evidence suggests you are in fact guilty. Yet, you know you are innocent. Surely you are not compelled to believe that you committed the crime. This is because your experience of the incident provides you with warrant to maintain your innocence. This warrant is an overwhelming defeater of the evidence against you. Now, you may not be able to persuade law enforcement that you are innocent, but that point is moot, since we are focusing on your own epistemic justification.

Now, for the one who has heard the problem of suffering as defended by Rowe, but is also aware of the argument of natural theology for God's existence, could we not have a similar case? Take the ontological argument:

1*. It is possible that a maximally great being exists. (Premise)

2*. Necessarily, a maximally great being is maximally excellent in every possible world. (Premise)

3*. Necessarily, a maximally excellent being is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect. (Premise)

4*. Hence, an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect being exists in all possible worlds. (From 1 - 3, S5)

5*. Therefore, an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect being exists. (From 4 - the actual world is a member of the set of all possible worlds)

In short, God's possible existence entails God's actual existence. This means that the possibility premise is the most controversial of the ontological argument. In fact, (2*) and (3*) are virtually uncontroversial, leaving (1*) as the only premise to be viably rejected.

Yet, we can actually reverse Rowe's argument against God and turn it into support for the ontological argument's premise (1*). Consider the following:

1'. To say that God is impossible is to say that God's existence is not possible. (Premise)

2'. If God's existence is impossible, we would most likely know what the reasons are for God to not possibly exist. (Premise)

3'. We do not know what the reasons are. (Premise)

4'. Therefore, it is most likely the case that God's existence is possible. (From 1' - 3')

If at this point the skeptic wishes to reject either (2') or (3'), then the theist is given at least as much justification for rejecting the original (2) and (3) of Rowe's argument. Do we not have enough information yet to conclude that God's existence is possible or impossible? Then why should we expect to have enough information to say that pain and suffering undermine God's existence? The skeptic should be careful to not commit a double standard.