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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

God's Plan Continued

In response to my blog post on God's plan, a few people gave the typical atheist objection. Inasmuch as neither Gene nor others is posting much lately, I paste my reply here, in the hopes that 50 (rather than 5) people read it:

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Bob is actually saying that evil doesn't really exist. It's all an illusion.

Where did I say that again? My browser must be broken.

Suppose a person kills and tortures all your kids. You must cheer up! It's the best thing that could have happened. Send the murderer some flowers in jail while you are at it!

Over the years, as I've wrestled with this problem, do you really think that the problem of evil never occurred to me? Is your sarcastic response really nothing more than this? "Bob thinks he has solved the problem of evil, such as Adolf Hitler. But Bob has conveniently overlooked the possibility of a murderer."

Let me try this approach. From your sarcasm, I'm guessing that you might possibly be a materialist (just as I used to be). If so, then you think the state of the universe in the next moment is at least related to the physical configuration at this moment. (Naturally depending on your views of quantum physics, there is more or less exact determinism involved.)

Now, exactly how should God (if we pretend for the sake of argument that He exists) alter the present reality, such that no one can murder my family? Make sure that when you change physical laws, you don't e.g. prevent the chemical processes that allow us to breathe.

(For onlookers, my point is that we can't just pick and choose tiny aspects of reality that we don't like. EVERYTHING all fits together. Yes, this is indeed the best of all possible worlds, but there are a lot of things that God had to consider of which you and I are ignorant. And yes, as I acknlowedged in the original blog post, this is not intended to convince atheists.)

21 comments:

  1. Joshua Ridinger11:52 AM

    "For onlookers, my point is that we can't just pick and choose tiny aspects of reality that we don't like."

    God can, or else he is not omnipotent. The exact degree of evil that exists is the exact degree of evil that the omnipotent god wants to exist, to the smallest detail, including the recognition of it on our part.

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  2. Anonymous5:26 PM

    "God can, or else he is not omnipotent."

    Wrong. This was all pretty thoroughly hashed out by the Schoolmen during the high medieval period.

    Omnipotence only requires that God have the power to do all things that are logically possible. The particular version of theological voluntarism that suggests otherwise (that, for example, God could have effectively willed that the law of the non-contradiction be false) is not representative of the traditional Christian view of Divine omnipotence.

    To kick this point into the praxeological register, God couldn't have created purposive beings, who act in the Misesian sense, and for whom the law of diminishing marginal utility holds, but then have elected for the demand curves of these creatures to not have been downward sloping. This isn't a mark against the Divine omnipotence: it's merely an acknowledgement that God can't do nonsense.

    Araglin

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  3. Anonymous5:34 PM

    Professor Murphy,
    Here's that First Things article by David B. Hart that I referred to in the comments thread to the original post:

    http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft0503/opinion/hart.html

    Hope you and your other readers find it interesting,
    Araglin

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  4. Joshua Ridinger6:47 PM

    "Omnipotence only requires that God have the power to do all things that are logically possible."

    Omnipotent god made the laws of logic, or else is not omnipotent, but is subject to outside forces.

    The 'best of all worlds' argument is true in the sense that we live in the only world we can live in, either as god has designed at every step or that has unfolded through mechanistic processes. Whoever said that it defines the problem of evil away was 100% right, but that's not necessarily a bad thing unless you think omnipotence is compatible with benevolence or personhood.

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  5. Anonymous7:19 PM

    Mr. Ridinger,

    If you want to use the term "omnipotence" in this way that's just fine (and, in that sense, the Christian God is not omnipotent), but you should know that this isn't the way that Thomas Aquinas or Peter Abelard used it.

    The "laws of logic" aren't creatures, like seraphim, duckbill platypuses, or goldfish. They also aren't some sort of outside force which could impinge upon God or pose an obstacle to the effectuation of His will.

    Araglin

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  6. Joshua Ridinger10:30 PM

    That's the same as saying the laws of logic are god, and you'd do just as well to just embrace atheism and materialism. Either way you simply define away the problem of evil from the get-go.

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  7. To argue that God is not bound by the laws of logic is to completely throw away any reference point for judging what is true and what is false.

    This reminds me of the old schoolboy argument that if God is omnipotent, then He can make a stone so large that even He cannot lift it, which proves that He is not omnipotent. Such a statement is based on a completely illogical premise, and in nowway "proves" that God is not omnipotent.

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  8. Some quick responses:

    I disagree that my view "defines away the problem of evil." I think it answers the problem of evil, or rather, gives more light on what the answer would look like. (Again, I am NOT trying to convince atheists here. Even when I was a devout Christian I used to wonder about Old Testament stuff and obvoius things like, "Why didn't God give Hitler a hernia?")

    Let's switch contexts. Suppose we see a father holding down a crying infant and putting a needle in his arm. Onlookers say, "What the heck! That guy's a monster!"

    Then someone says, "Well, in plenty of other instances, that guy has been a really loving father. I trust that there was a good reason for him to do that. Maybe it's an inoculation?"

    The horrified skeptic says, "Well fine, if you just want to define away the problem of the hurting arm, go right ahead. But I thought we were being rational here."

    ---

    As an aside, regarding the paradoxes of omnipotence: Yes, I like the standard view that God can't make A and not-A true at the same time, and that this doesn't deny His omnipotence.

    However, I personally think the answer to, "Can God make a rock so heavy that He Himself can't life it?" is:

    Yes, He can make such a rock, but He chooses not to.

    (I'm not merely trying to be cute; I really think that's a better answer than "No that is nonsensical." Because I don't think it's nonsense.)

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  9. Joshua Ridinger10:51 PM

    Saying that evil is somehow necessary for the greater good is just silly. For one thing, whose good are we talking about? God's? In that case, much better to say what happens is what most pleases God, including the degree to which people don't like it/consider it evil.

    Falling back on, 'but God can't go against the laws of logic' proves nothing or rather, too much. First, it makes god into the disinterested watchmaker of deism rather than the constantly governing god of Christianity, and second, it says that, there was only one way God could have possibly initially arranged matter, in essence saying God is determined/is a part of a pre-existing material universe, utilizing scarce means to achieve his ends.

    Mr. Murphy, I think you should be more comfortable with the fact that the only answer to the problem of evil is to just define it away, as (I think) Wittgenstein said, the point of real philosophy isn't to solve problems, but to show there are no problems to begin with.

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  10. Mr. Ridinger,

    Are you distinguishing between the laws of logic and the laws of physics? To say God is bound by the laws of logic still allows Jesus to walk on water, rise from the dead, feed 5,000 with a few loaves and fishes, etc. It still allows God to part the Red Sea for the Israelites. It still allows God to create the physical universe in 6 days, etc.

    So are you saying this God would still be the one of Thomas Paine (i.e. deism), and not the conventional God of Christianity?

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  11. so... God is omnipotent while taking a hands off approach regarding day to day operations of our understanding of what is? If so, doesn't that put God in a rather meaningless role, again based on our understanding of what is?

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  12. TTT,

    I really don't understand what you're saying--or rather, I fail to see how my position implies what you're saying it does. Our difference is so fundamental that (I'm guessing) you are completely flabbergasted by my statements, as well.

    Is there anyone who can see what the miscommunication is? Gene, perhaps?

    I don't know if this helps--I wrote an LRC a while ago in which I explained that God necessarily can't violate the laws of physics, because whatever happens, must be consistent with them. E.g. if He parts the Red Sea and this violates conservation of momentum, then conservation of momentum isn't really a law of physics (since it wasn't obeyed). This isn't a comment about God's power, it's a comment about what it means for something to be a law of nature.

    But this position really doesn't affect the current topic. If I say God won't intervene to make a square circle, how does that "put God in a rather meaningless role"? There's a whole heck of a lot that He could without violating the laws of logic (as opposed to Newtonian mechanics).

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  13. For instance? ___ I still do not see what function God performs on a daily basis, except maybe the miracle of life. I'm still not sure about story book accounts of doing a half-step or a jig on water though. Love the Lord Your God With All Your Mind by J.P. Moreland. Maybe that's it. It's all in the mind.

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  14. TTT wrote:

    For instance? ___ I still do not see what function God performs on a daily basis, except maybe the miracle of life.

    Oh, I understand your earlier questions better now...

    Even so this new post strikes me as curious. What do you mean that life is a miracle, but everything else about the universe is commonplace? Isn't it a "miracle" that mathematics works the way it does, and isn't it very strange how the universe apparently behaves at the subatomic level?

    Moreover, most biologists would scoff if you said life was miraculous. They'd say it was just the blind unfolding of physical laws, as non-miraculous as a thunderstorm.

    I'm not trying to be argumentative; I think you are trying to show humility in the face of life by your statement. But I wonder why the rest of the universe doesn't strike you as equally impressive.

    (Again folks, I am not here trying to make a standalone case against atheism. I'm just pointing out what seem to be contradictions in the views of my critics.)

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