Intelligent Design

Is the notion of God logically contradictory?

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Anthony Grayling is Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London and a Supernumerary Fellow of St Anne’s College, Oxford. He has a Master of Arts and a Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the Royal Society of Arts. Professor Grayling has written and edited over twenty books on philosophy and other subjects. In addition, he sits on the editorial boards of several academic journals, and for nearly ten years was the Honorary Secretary of the principal British philosophical association, the Aristotelian Society. One would therefore hope that if a man with such a distinguished background were to pen an attack on belief in God, it would be an intelligent critique. But one would be wrong.

In a recent email exchange with Professor Jerry Coyne (an atheist who, to his credit, is at least prepared to entertain the possibility of theism) over at Why Evolution Is True, Anthony Grayling contends that the notion of God is a logical absurdity:

[O]n the standard definition of an infinite, omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent etc being – on inspection such a concept collapses into contradiction and absurdity…

and again:

But ‘god’ is not like ‘yeti’ (which might – so to say: yet? – be found romping about the Himalayas), it is like ‘square circle’.

Now, if Grayling is right, then the implications for Intelligent Design are obvious: the notion of an infinite, omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent Designer can be automatically ruled out.

But has Grayling established his case? Not by a long shot. In today’s post, I’m going to critique his argument on two grounds: first, the concept of God is no more incoherent than many other concepts currently accepted by philosophers and scientists; and second, the arguments Professor Grayling puts forward against the possibility of God’s existence are very poor ones.

I have said before that in my experience, the best refutations of atheistic arguments are usually ones written by other atheists, and today’s post provides an excellent illustration of this point.

A general observation: “difficult to grasp” is not the same as contradictory

An atheist philosopher writing under the nom de plume of “Physicalist” has written a rebuttal of Professor Grayling’s argument that the concept of God is logically absurd, in the comments section (scroll down to comment #14) of a recent post by Professor Jerry Coyne, entitled Many voices of disbelief (18 March 2011), in which Coyne invites his readers to explain why they are atheists. Physicalist writes:

I have to say too, that I’m pretty unconvinced by the claim that we can discount the existence of god(s) because the notion is incoherent.

Pretty much any notion is incoherent if you push it far enough. We philosophers struggle with the notions of causation, causation, knowledge, necessity, etc. etc. The fact that we have a lot of trouble making good sense of these notions is not itself good reason to think that these things don’t exist.

And it’s not like science is much better off. We don’t have clear notion of the ontology of quantum mechanics, for example, or of how quantum reality is to be squared with relativity. The notion of a biological species is controversial enough that the lay person isn’t likely to grasp it. And so on. (Emphases mine – VJT.)

Here’s a question for Professor Grayling: is the concept of God any more absurd than that of a particle which is in two places at once, or of a universe which creates itself out of nothing (as some cosmologists have suggested), or Max Tegmark’s Ultimate Ensemble theory of the multiverse (complete with doppelgangers and all), or for that matter, David Lewis’ modal realism about possible worlds? If so, why?

Physicalist goes on to add:

The point is that we often have good evidence for the existence of something (or for the truth of some claim) even though we don’t have a perfect conception of what the thing is (or of the precise way to state the truth claim).

We should NOT hold god talk to a different standard. It’s the evidence (or lack thereof) that matters.

Hear, hear! I agree with Physicalist on this point. One of the reasons why I’m interested in the Intelligent Design movement is that it is making a genuine philosophical and scientific attempt to address the question of what would count as evidence for or against the existence of a Deity. All I will say for now is that I have addressed this question before, and I shall return to it in a future post.

Why Professor Grayling’s attempted disproofs of God’s existence don’t work

In his email exchange with Professor Jerry Coyne, Professor Grayling puts forward three arguments against the possibility of God’s existence, and I have to say that they are not good ones. To put it bluntly, he hasn’t done his homework.

Atheistic argument #1: How Professor Grayling misconstrues omnipotence

Grayling’s first argument for the logical impossibility of a God is that omnipotence entails logical absurdities:

[O]n the standard definition of an infinite, omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent etc being – on inspection such a concept collapses into contradiction and absurdity; as omnipotent, god can eat himself for breakfast… [The ellipsis is Grayling’s, not mine – VJT.]

What! This is what an Oxford-trained Professor of Philosophy considers a good argument? Surely he knows that traditional believers in God have never defined “omnipotence” as the ability to do absolutely anything. (Descartes is about the only Christian philosopher of note who thought that God could do absolutely anything; Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas all expressly taught otherwise.) Rather, the faith of believers has always been that God can do anything that can be done, for “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). However, some of the things that we ask God to do are simply nonsensical, and therefore cannot be called “things” at all. If God is unable to do as we ask, it is not because there is something He cannot do, but because there is nothing that He was asked to do in the first place.

Take, for instance, Professor Grayling’s absurd request that God eat Himself for breakfast. Problem Number One: God doesn’t have a body. God is Spirit (John 4:24). Asking a spirit to eat is as nonsensical as asking a triangle or a poem to do so. Category mistake! Problem Number Two: God doesn’t have parts. According to classical theists, God is truly and absolutely simple, as St, Augustine puts it (De Trinitate iv, 6, 7). But the act of eating requires moving parts – teeth and a mouth, for instance. Problem Number Three: God is outside time. In Him there is no shadow of an alteration or change (James 1:18). No change entails no possibility of eating – and hence, no breakfast. Problem Number Four: as a necessary Being, God is indestructible, but eating involves the destruction of that which is eaten – in this case, God.

So my answer to Professor Grayling is: what do you want God to do, in order that He can meet your request that He eat Himself for breakfast? Do you want Him to have a body or to be incorporeal? Do you want Him to have parts or to be essentially simple? Do you want Him to be inside or outside time? And do you want Him to be destructible or indestructible? If you desire the former option in any of these four cases, then you are really asking God to be something other than what He essentially is. You want God not to be God. Now that’s impossible. Your request is an incoherent one, Professor Grayling.

I’m not saying anything new here. Bishops, priests and theologians (including St. Thomas Aquinas) have taught the same thing for the past two thousand years, and ordinary folk have believed likewise. As the philosopher Edward Feser puts it in his masterfully written volume, Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide (Oneworld Publications, Oxford, 2009, p. 123):

In line with the mainstream classical theistic tradition, Aquinas holds that since there is no sense to be made of doing what is intrinsically impossible (e.g. making a round square or something else involving a self-contradiction), to say that God is omnipotent does not entail that He can do such things, but only that he can do whatever is intrinsically possible (S[umma] T[heologica] I.25.3). (Emphases mine – VJT.)

Professor Grayling is not a stupid man. I presume he has reasons for rejecting the classical theistic view of omnipotence. What astonishes me, however, that he was willing to put forward, in an email that he asked Professor Jerry Coyne to publish, an argument against God’s omnipotence which a sharp seven-year-old could knock down with a feather.

Atheistic argument #2: God must will whatever evil he causes and foresees

Next, Professor Grayling argues that the fact of suffering is incompatible with the existence of an omniscient, omnibenevolent Creator:

[A]s omniscient it [i.e. God – VJT] knows the world it created will cause immense suffering through tsunamis and earthquakes, and therefore has willed that suffering, which contradicts the benevolence claim…etc etc…

I would like to observe in passing that Professor Grayling has completely overlooked the distinction between God’s active will and His permissive will. Perhaps Grayling thinks it’s an irrelevant distinction. Let me just note here that substituting “permitted” for “willed” in the above quote robs it of much of its rhetorical force. For it simply isn’t clear that permitting foreseen suffering is logically incompatible with benevolence.

Now, I happen to live in Japan, and I was working in Yokohama when a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck Japan on March 11, 2011. I survived unscathed, but sadly, twenty thousand people perished as a result of that terrible catastrophe. I’ll say more about earthquakes and tsunamis in my next post. All I’ll say for now is that as a religious believer, I do agree with Professor Grayling on one point: the terrible suffering Japan experienced was absolutely senseless.

Today, however, I simply want to address the question: is the fact of suffering logically incompatible with the existence of an omniscient, omnibenevolent Creator? The answer is no – unless you can convincingly show that it is always immoral for an intelligent agent to knowingly cause suffering for a sentient being, even for an instant, if that agent is aware of an alternative course of action which would avoid that suffering and which would cause less suffering overall.

Now, some atheists reading this post may be nodding in agreement at this point, and saying to themselves, “Of course it’s immoral. What morally decent individual would think otherwise?”

I would ask these atheists to think again. Suppose there’s a sentient being (let’s call him Fred) that suffers as a result of some act of God, and that God (being omniscient) can foresee this. What if the only alternative course of action for God to avoid harming Fred is to create a world without Fred – say, a world with a different set of laws, in which Fred (and other beings like him) would not exist, and in which nobody else would be harmed? Should God make a world like that? The answer to that question sems to depend on which sentient being you ask. Fred might not agree. If the suffering in question were temporary, and the harm done were not irreparable, then Fred might well prefer to exist, after all, even if it means enduring pain. And yes, I realize that in a world without Fred, no-one would miss him, but for me the morally relevant point is that whether we like it or not, Fred does exist, in this actual world. Conjuring up an alternative world in which Fred is air-brushed out of the picture in order to avoid suffering strikes me as an unsatisfactory solution to the problem of evil.

So the question of whether it’s wrong for an omniscient, omnibenevolent Creator to make a world containing suffering seems to boil down to the question of whether it’s wrong for God to knowingly inflict irreparable harm on a sentient being while it’s conscious, if there’s an alternative course of action open to God which would avoid that suffering and which would cause less suffering overall, and which would result in exactly the same sentient beings coming into existence (and perhaps additional sentient beings as well). But when you put it like that, it’s not at all clear that such an alternative world is even possible. I for one am highly doubtful. After all, my individual identity as a human animal depends on which parents I had – if I’d been born of someone else, I wouldn’t be who I am, but someone else instead. So we’re being asked to imagine an alternative world in which the same sentient beings exist, and have the same ancestors – which seems to entail that the same laws of Nature obtain – but in which there is less suffering. Could there be such a world? Color me skeptical.

Now, perhaps Professor Grayling believes that an omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent Being is morally obliged to save sentient beings by recourse to miracles, if necessary. In other words, God is obliged to step in to save every sentient being from suffering – even if only by rendering it unconscious (e.g. by shutting down its nervous system). Fair enough. But again I would ask Professor Grayling: is God obliged to do this always, and on every occasion?

However, if Professor Grayling is still not convinced that the fact of suffering is logically compatible with the existence of an omniscient, omnibenevolent Creator, then I’d like to direct him to an online article entitled, The many-universe solution to the problem of evil (December 3, 2008), written by a fellow atheist, and a philosopher like himself: Professor Bradley Monton, who outlines what he considers to be “the most promising reply to the problem of evil,” as follows:

This isn’t the most formal way to present it, but I’ll present it with a parable. Suppose that God exists, and God is omnipotent and omniscient, and has the desire to be omnibenevolent. So God creates a very nice universe, a universe with no evil. We might at first think that God has fulfilled the criterion of omnibenevolence, but then we recognize that God could do more – God could create another universe that’s also very nice. Agents could exist in that universe that didn’t exist in the first universe, and so there’s an intuitive sense (which is admittedly tricky to make precise mathematically) in which there would be more goodness to reality than there would be were God just to create one universe.

But of course there’s no reason to stop at two – God should create an infinite number of universes. Now, he could just create an infinite number of universes, where in each universe no evil things happen. But in doing so, there would be certain creatures that wouldn’t exist – creatures like us, who exist in a universe with evil, and are essential products of that universe. So God has to decide whether to create our universe as well. What criterion should he use in making this decision? My thought is that he should create all the universes that have more good than evil, and not create the universes that have more evil than good.

So that’s why an omnipotent omniscient omnibenevolent God would create our universe, even though it has evil – our universe adds (in an intuitive sense, setting aside mathematical technicalities) to the sum total of goodness in the universe, and hence it’s worth creating.

If Professor Grayling thinks there’s a logical hole in the solution to the problem of evil put forward by atheist philosopher Professor Bradley Monton, or if he thinks that Monton’s criterion for “create-worthiness” is too broad, or that our own universe on balance is not worthy of being created by a Deity, then I think he owes his readers an explanation as to why he thinks that way. I await his response.

Atheistic argument #3: Miracles make either God or the universe rationally incomprehensible

Finally, Professor Grayling argues that miracles, if they occurred, would make a mockery of the scientific quest to rationally comprehend the cosmos:

[L]ocal suspension of the laws of nature for arbitrary reasons e.g. in answer to personal prayer, … makes a nonsense of the idea that the world or the deity is rationally comprehensible: and if either or both are non-rational then there is nothing to talk about anyway[.]

As a philosopher, I cannot help noticing the number of vague terms in this passage that haven’t been defined: “arbitrary”, “rationally comprehensible” and “non-rational”.

I also cannot help noticing the loaded language. If God suspends the laws of nature to save a child’s life, then that’s arbitrary? Frankly, I can think of no better reason for acting.

Nor can I agree with the notion that miracles make the universe rationally incomprehensible. First, I cannot help asking: rationally incomprehensible to whom? Us or God?

Second, if Grayling means “rationally incomprehensible to us,” then I have to ask: for how long? For this life only, or for eternity?

Third, why does “rationally comprehensible” have to mean “scientifically predictable”? (For I presume that’s what Grayling really means by the term.) In the 21st century, we no longer believe that we live in a Laplacean clockwork universe, so why are we still doing philosophy as if we did?

Fourth, why does rational comprehensibility have to be an all-or-nothing affair? Suppose we lived in a cosmos where the laws of nature held 99.999999% of the time. Professor Grayling might wish it was 100%, but beyond a certain number of decimal points, I think most of us would say, “Who cares? 99.999999 is near enough to 100, for all practical purposes.” My point is that we could still do science on an everyday basis, even if miracles occasionally happened.

Fifth, I would argue that Grayling’s claim that miracles make the universe rationally incomprehensible is empirically false. After all, we all acquire a naive understanding of the way the world works, during the first few years of life – call it folk physics, if you will. For instance, we learn that things fall down and not up. But a baby who is well cared for by her parents might well form the generalization, “Things fall down when dropped, unless they happen to be people,” or even, “A thing falls down when dropped, unless it happens to be me.” Perhaps the baby has always been caught in the nick of time by her very alert and loving parents, whenever she was perched precariously on the edge of a table or sofa. Do these “miraculous” acts of intervention by the parents make the baby’s universe rationally incomprehensible? I think not.

I conclude that a fair-minded individual would have to say that Professor Grayling has utterly failed to establish, or even make plausible, his contention that the existence of God is a logical absurdity.

24 Replies to “Is the notion of God logically contradictory?

  1. 1
    nullasalus says:

    VJTorley,

    Regarding ‘rational incomprehensibility’, I suggest a look at this entry by Ed Feser if you haven’t already seen it. If Ed’s right, Grayling is not only wrong, but has things backwards.

  2. 2
    nullasalus says:

    Though one thing.

    an atheist who, to his credit, is at least prepared to entertain the possibility of theism

    I think that’s kind of a stretch. If I said that watching a rhesus monkey emerge fully formed from an otherwise biologically sterile swamp would convince me of the truth of abiogenesis, is it therefore the case that “I am prepared to entertain the possiblity of abiogenesis”?

  3. 3
    Ilion says:

    [A]s omniscient it [i.e. God – VJT] knows the world it created will cause immense suffering through tsunamis and earthquakes, and therefore has willed that suffering, which contradicts the benevolence claim…etc etc…

    If a man (by which I mean any man) proposes to marry a woman (by which I mean any man) knowing that there will be periods of discord (or even strife) between the two of them, some of which may well rip out his heart – and what rational man does not know this, even if he does not know omnisciently when and where and for how long these periods of discord will be – should we therefore conclude that the man wills the discord (or strife)? Should we conclude that the man’s love for the woman is either a self-contradiction or a contradiction with respect to his knowledge that there will be discord between the two of them? On the basis of this last, should we then further conclude that the man’s intent to marry the woman doesn’t exist … or that neither the man nor the woman exist?

  4. 4
    Ilion says:

    … in creating anything at all, God creates ‘not-God’ – which is to say, it is logically impossible for God to create any world which is “perfect” (the quotes are because people use that term with generally no clear idea of what they mean by it) – that is:
    1) it is logically possible for God to create any world which does not contain some measure or other of natural evil;
    2) and, if, in creating a world, God creates agents in that world, then it is logically impossible that the world not contain the possibility of moral evil.

  5. 5
    Ilion says:

    But a baby who is well cared for by her parents might …

    Dude! We speak English here, and the English pronoun for a person of unknown or indeterminate or inconsequential sex is ‘he.’

  6. 6
    Ilion says:

    … though, in the case of an infant, English does allow for ‘it.’

  7. 7
    DennisM says:

    First time greetings from a longtime reader.
    Re Dr Grayling’s second argument, that “[A]s omniscient [God] knows the world it created will cause immense suffering through tsunamis and earthquakes, and therefore has willed that suffering, which contradicts the benevolence claim …”

    This is not to dispute the response suggested by VJTorley, but only to suggest a second possibility.

    Dr Grayling’s criticism is based on the premise that a creator God, being omniscient, therefore would know in advance that the world to be created would become filled with evil and suffering. But it’s possible that omniscience would not include advance knowledge of decisions yet to be made by creatures endowed with genuine free will and therefore the ability to choose their own actions. In that case, the omniscient creator would be aware of the possibility for evil to occur, but it would not be a foregone conclusion and certainty at the time of creation. It would be reasonable to expect then that the creator would be prepared for that possibility, and that the resulting net good would still be worth the cost of that creation.

    This is a minority opinion within Christianity, of course. I just thought it might be helpful to mention it. A web search for discussions of “open theism” will provide much more detail about it for interested readers.

    Thanks for publishing this forum. The discussions on UncommonDescent have been a great help in dealing with Intelligent Design issues and other topics, too.

  8. 8
    Frost122585 says:

    Responses to objections 1, 2 and 3

    #1. The only things that can be done by God are those things done for good. Therefore, God cannot do evil- because he WILL NOT do evil. Anything God will not do is not possible. Anything that would be irrational or a contradictory impossibility would fall inside the sphere of evil.

    #2. Evil comes out of free will- which “freedom” is once again not something fully understood or even perhaps understandable by physics. That is why Heisenberg said the world is not merely stranger than we think but stranger than we can think. This is where it is appropriate to remind ourselves that God is omnipotent but we are not. The “will” too is also a mysterious dimension of nature- in that we do not know exactly why people choose what they choose any more than we know exactly what moves the atom.

    #3. This one is actually where I will concede a little bit to the atheists argument while still totally rejecting their conclusion. I agree that God and his created reality are NOT fully understandable by human beings- and never will be. Why could one infatecimally brain (as compared to the size of the universe) be able to understand the near infinte comos of which it is but a small part of? The creation is never equal to the creator- but Einstein understood this as simply being a limit to what the human being can be expected to ever discover. Einstein also said that to deny generalities (the best we can hope fore regarding physical theories) is to deny all knowledge. In other words all we have is general laws of how the universe is and works- we do not know exactly how anything actually is. Bohr, did not even think physics described the world as it actually was – but instead as best as it can be described. That is physics for Bohr only concerns what we can “say” about reality- but not how reality “actually” is. Godel showed that any physical theory that you can put numbers to will at best be inexorably incomplete.

    So the point is that miracles are not outside what we can expect in a universe that imposes such limits of knowledge upon us. And neither do miracles undermine our goal which is still to understand the universe “as best as possible” either. Interestingly, this plays right into intelligent design and the question of can we know or infer the designer by his artifacts?

    What we can know is that the designer/s was intellectually greater than the artifact it designed. But, (and this gets the fundamental atheist objection here)- just because we cannot know exactly what the limits of, or exact nature of, the designer of say a watch found on Mars would be – this does not mean we cannot assume such a designer exists- and that the designers intelligence is greater than the artifact (the watch) it designed or created.

    We therefore can rationally, and reasonably infer rational intelligence of a higher power by it’s designed or created artifacts.

  9. 9
    markf says:

    o the question of whether it’s wrong for an omniscient, omnibenevolent Creator to make a world containing suffering seems to boil down to the question of whether it’s wrong for God to knowingly inflict irreparable harm on a sentient being while it’s conscious, if there’s an alternative course of action open to God which would avoid that suffering and which would cause less suffering overall, and which would result in exactly the same sentient beings coming into existence (and perhaps additional sentient beings as well).

    I don’t see why it has to be exactly the same sentient beings. Surely if the alternative includes all the sentient beings that actually did exist plus a few more plus less suffering – then it is preferable. You can never be absolutely certain – but it seems pretty certain that not having the earthquake would have been a better alternative in all these senses. Why would not having the earthquake have prevented any one being conceived/born? And it seems like rather a lot of sentient beings ceased to be in existence and no doubt that included pregnant or potentially pregnant women.

  10. 10
    markf says:

    #3 Ilion

    If a man (by which I mean any man) proposes to marry a woman (by which I mean any man)

    I didn’t know you were into that sort of thing!

  11. 11
  12. 12
    tjguy says:

    Well put Frost. The Bible tells us there is evidence for God’s existence and that we are all accountable because of that evidence. But there will never be proof. I think ID helps us see some of this evidence like was mentioned.

    God desires faith and faith by definition, believes in spite of the lack of 100% proof. It believes based on the evidence, but in spite of the lack of proof.

    We are finite creatures, like you said, and there is no way we should even expect to be able to understand God our Creator. His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts than our thoughts. Our thinking/reasoning/decision making ability has been damaged and by sin.

    God is not threatened by these thinkers who claim to think Him out of existence!

    19For it is written,

    “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

    20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.

    We cannot know God through human “wisdom”. But that is what these guys are trying to do. These great “thinkers” fail to realize that their own worldview must be taken by faith. They cannot account for truth, morality, logic, love, natural laws, order, design, self-consciousness, etc. in their worldview.

    Their thinking is determined by the chemical processes of their brain. How do they know they can trust the workings of their “animal” brain? Even Darwin wondered about that.

    The existence of a Creator/Designer explains the existence of these things very easily, but from an atheistic viewpoint, these things are puzzles waiting to be explained.

  13. 13
    tjguy says:

    By the way, VJ, I live in Japan too – in Higashi Kurume/Kiyose on the Seibu Ikebukuro line. Check out the Crashjapan.com website for encouraging information on the Christian relief effort.

  14. 14
    Bruce David says:

    The entire “God does not exist because of the existence of unnecessary suffering” argument is dependent on the assumption that suffering in this physical existence is in some sense a bad thing, something that an omnibenevolent being would not will.

    But that assumption is not necessarily true. In a theology that includes reincarnation and a few other assumptions, the problem disappears.

    My belief is that:

    1. Our true home (where we abide between lives and after we finish with the cycle of earthly existence) is a place where there is no suffering.

    2. We choose to be born into earthly existence repeatedly because what occurs here powerfully promotes spiritual growth and increased depth.

    3. We also choose the major outlines of each incarnation, including the potential suffering it will entail.

    4. Through the course of our many incarnations, we all experience basically all varieties of experience here–pleasure and pain, victimhood and its opposite, exaltation and abasement, tranquility and chaos, greatness and insignificance, etc.

    5. The whole program is part of God’s plan and perfectly suits both His and our purpose.

    The basic idea, which I understand is antithetical to most Christian theology, is that earth is actually a place which is designed for a purpose, and which perfectly supports that purpose, and that what happens here, including the suffering, is essential to it.

  15. 15
    vjtorley says:

    Hi tjguy,

    Thanks for your post. It’s a small world. I didn’t know you lived so close to my neck of the woods.

    By the way, readers who are interested in the Crash Japan Website that tjguy mentioned can click here .

  16. 16
    Frost122585 says:

    Thanks TJ @ comment #12.

    Thanks VJT for making this post- a lot of people become confused or challenged by these so called “philosophical” objections to the concept of God.

    The irony is that while philosophers think thy are showing the absurdity of God- in reality what they are actually doing- and ALL they are doing- is proving there own ability to be absurd.

  17. 17
    Frost122585 says:

    TJ wrote:

    “God desires faith and faith by definition, believes in spite of the lack of 100% proof. It believes based on the evidence, but in spite of the lack of proof.”

    Linked to my SN here at UD is my Youtube channel and under my self description is a quote from Romans 1

    “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith..”

    So you are absolutely correct in your above statement. Whether you are an atheist or a fundamentalist Christian no one knows all things- nor can they know them- therefore our beliefs about the world require some faith that they are true. Hence, atheism also operates as a belief system or perhaps religion in this sense. But I think atheism is a belief system rooted in denial as it is also written in Romans that

    “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So much so that they are without excuse.”

  18. 18
    vjtorley says:

    Bruce David (#14)

    Thank you for your very interesting post. I take it you espouse something like the Hindu view, since you write:

    We choose to be born into earthly existence repeatedly because what occurs here powerfully promotes spiritual growth and increased depth.

    Questions of morality aside, the main problem I have with this view is that it does not square with the evidence that the emergence of morally conscious beings occurred very late in the development of the cosmos. That makes perfect sense if you believe in a Creator God who was preparing the cosmos for us, but it does not seem to make sense if we ourselves choose to be (re)incarnated.

    Another question I have is: where do you stand on sentient animals? Do people get ever reincarnated as animals? And how do animals make it up to the human level, when they are incapable of reflecting on their lives in the way that humans do? A cow can’t think to itself: “I must learn to overcome my anger management problem.” It lacks the cognitive wherewithal to do so. What karmic purpose does its life serve, then?

  19. 19
    Ilion says:

    I didn’t know you were into that sort of thing!

    Neither did I, to tell you the truth.

  20. 20
    Ilion says:

    DavidM:Dr Grayling’s criticism is based on the premise that a creator God, being omniscient, therefore would know in advance that the world to be created would become filled with evil and suffering. But it’s possible that omniscience would not include advance knowledge of decisions yet to be made by creatures endowed with genuine free will and therefore the ability to choose their own actions. …

    This is an interesting thought I have never encountered.

    Just as ‘omnipotence’ does not include the ability to do the logically impossible, ‘omniscience’ does not include the ability to know the logically unknowable.

    So, the question would be: Is it logically impossible for an omniscient being to “fore-know” the free choices of free beings.

    But, I don’t see how we could attempt to answer that question (as a side note, the Bible seems to me to indicate that God has no problem with knowing this).

    Also, it seems to me that this possible view – along with the atheistical view to which it is offered as an answer — rests upon the unexamined assumption that there is such a thing as “the future,” in much the same sense that there is “the past.” I reject the assumption — meaning, it seems to me, that I believe both the “A-theory” and “B-theory” of time are false.

    I don’t believe there is “the future” — one and only one chain of events from this instant to some future instant — rather, I believe there are a multiplicity of potential futures, and that the free choices of free beings moves “the present” through the branching “tree” of possibilities, and thereby “pruning” the potential futures which could have resulted from the choices not taken (*). And, I believe that God knows *all* of these potential futures.

    (*) Thus, for example, all of human history would have been different had Cain heeded God’s warning and not murdered Abel. Perhaps even so different that our salvation might not have required the human sacrifice of the Christ.

  21. 21
    kornbelt888 says:

    Stunning how much (bad) theology and philosophy exists in those remarks of Coyne and Grayling.

  22. 22
    kornbelt888 says:

    Good topic, by the way. Except for one faux pas, IMO:

    “Intelligent Design movement is that it is making a genuine philosophical and scientific attempt to address the question of what would count as evidence for or against the existence of a Deity.”

    Whoa. Deity? Does the designer of earth life have to be a deity?

  23. 23
    DennisM says:

    re: Ilion @ #20
    I like your comparison of omnipotence and omniscience.

    Later you wrote: “the free choices of free beings moves “the present” through the branching “tree” of possibilities, and thereby “pruning” the potential futures which could have resulted from the choices not taken (*). And, I believe that God knows *all* of these potential futures.”

    In practical terms, would that be the same as saying that if God does not know the future choices of free-willed creatures, nevertheless He fully anticipates and is prepared for the consequences of any choices we make?

  24. 24
    vividbleau says:

    “the free choices of free beings moves “the present” through the branching “tree” of possibilities, and thereby “pruning” the potential futures which could have resulted from the choices not taken (*). And, I believe that God knows *all* of these potential futures.”

    This is very close to my position. God knows every possible future,every possible existence and every possible free choice. He determined one of these possible futures to be actualized.

    Vivid

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