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The Dilemma Theodicy

  1. By definition, God is a maximally great being, i.e. an omnipotent, omniscience, morally perfect being in every possible world.
  2. Any argument against God’s existence that depends on a premise of the form “If God were to exist, then we would expect there to be x” (hereafter, the “counterfactual” premise) must have a justification, either by way of a trivial entailment, given the incoherence of the concept of God, and so the impossibility of the existence of God, or by way of the defense of a substantive counterfactual implication, given a thoroughgoing conceptual analysis of the concept of God, and the sorts of states of affairs implied by God’s existence.
  3. If the justification for the “counterfactual” premise is by way of a trivial entailment, given the incoherence of the concept of God, and so the impossibility of the existence of God, then the justification for the “counterfactual” premise begs the question of any argument against God’s existence that depends upon the “counterfactual” premise, which means the argument containing the “counterfactual” premise is informally fallacious.
  4. If the justification for the “counterfactual” premise is by way of a defense of a substantive counterfactual implication, given a thoroughgoing conceptual analysis of the concept of God, and the sorts of states of affairs implied by God’s existence, then the justification depends upon the metaphysical possibility of God, and the sorts of states of affairs that obtain in the nearest possible worlds where God exists, which also serves as a justification for the possibility premise of the modal ontological argument, by which the existence of God can be directly demonstrated from His metaphysical possibility, based upon an axiom of S5.
  5. But, a successful argument cannot be informally fallacious, nor can a successful argument depend on a justification that directly implies the contradictory of the its conclusion.
  6. So, no argument against God’s existence that depends on the “counterfactual” premise is successful.

Escaping the horns would require a substantive justification of the counterfactual premise that does not imply any real metaphysical possibility of God.  Would such a justification be compelling enough for a theist, or neutral party to accept the truth of the counterfactual premise? 

12 Examples of Evidence That Support God’s Existence

I’ve often heard it said that there is no evidence for the existence of God. Of course, as soon as I challenge that claim, I usually hear a series of qualifications, e.g. there is no empirical evidence, or there is no scientific evidence, or there is “scant” evidence, or there is insufficient evidence. The fact is that there is no singular way to understand “evidence.” So when someone says, “there is no evidence” or “you haven’t shown any evidence,” the first task is to nail down precisely what “evidence” means. Only later can we take up the question of the sufficiency of evidence.

In defining evidence, I prefer something like a Bayesian account:

(∀x)(∀h){[P(h|x)>P(h)] ⊃ Exh} (read as: for all facts and for all hypotheses, if the probability of a hypothesis, h, given a fact x, is greater than the probability of h unconditioned, then x is evidence for h).

This definition is commonly accepted by philosophers of science, is natural, and implicit in legal reasoning. It doesn’t beg the question as to whether the hypothesis is true, believed to be true, or known to be true. It just lays out when something should rightly be called evidence for a hypothesis. If someone would like to explain why there is absolutely no evidence for God, I would like to know a) what do they mean by evidence, and b) why do the following not count?

So is there any evidence that makes the God hypothesis more likely than the God hypothesis alone? I am going to present some facts that I think make God’s existence more likely than the God hypothesis is by itself. Think of it this way: were you to wake up tomorrow to the news that these facts were overturned for one reason or another, would you have even less reason to think God exists? Another way to think of this is to consider if the evidence is more surprising given the non-existence of God or the existence of God.

1. That there is a universe of existing things rather than nothing: Think of it this way, if there were no universe and no God, there would be nothing that needs to be explained. The universe exists, and so it makes the hypothesis that God exists a little more likely than if there was no universe at all. Now it might be odd to think about a scenario where you read in the newspaper that there is no universe at all. Nonetheless, if we could posit some observer of a situation where there were no universe, I think such an observer would have less reason to think God exists than we do given that there is a universe.

2. The contingency of the universe: Related to there being something is the notion that the something we perceive is contingent.  It didn’t have to be. And the existence of contingent things always has an explanation. So, the conjunction of all contingent facts, requires an explanation. But that explanation cannot be within the conjunction. So the explanation is something non-contingent, and beyond the contingent natural world. If nothing were contingent, then classical theism would be less likely as a hypothesis. Conversely, the existence of contingent things is expected on classical theism. If non-theism were the case, perhaps there would be nothing at all and so nothing requiring an explanation.

3. The fine-tuning of the universe: Sure there might be some multiverse explanation on the horizon. But keep in mind that the multiverse is an additional ad hoc hypothesis that has yet to be established. Furthermore, it may very well be that fine-tuning applies to the multiverse as well. But generally speaking, if there were no fine-tuning at all, theism would be less likely. That is, if it turned out that the universe did not need much fine-tuning to sustain life (that the parameters were huge), we would think God would be less necessary as a hypothesis. Conversely, fine-tuning is at least some evidence in favor of God.

4. The ubiquity of biogenesis and lack of observation of abiogensis: If abiogenesis were a common occurrence, we would think that would really make God less necessary. But generally we observe that life comes from life. And so it seems that this fits better with a world-view where biological life my have been brought into existence through the providence of a living God. Again, imagine you open your newspaper tomorrow morning and read an article that says “Scientists have discovered that abiogensis occurs everyday at the bottom of the ocean”… would you rush to post that on your favorite Atheism/Theism forum on Facebook as evidence against theism, or would you shrug? Would the theist nervously try to explain the scientist’s findings away? Now I am not saying that the discovery of abiogensis would be a defeater for theism, but it would be slight evidence against God. Likewise, the constant confirmation that life comes from life fits with theism, where a living God is the source of everything.

5. The hard problem of consciousness: If there were no conscious beings, naturalists wouldn’t be struggling to resolve the hard problem (a series of interconnected problems associated with intentionality, qualia, identity, individuation, other minds, moral responsibility and freedom). Likewise, if there were no hard problem for the naturalists to resolve, theism would look less likely. Consciousness is not surprising on theism since it posits that consciousness is fundamental and necessarily existing in God and that God would somehow want to create rational substances like Him. Suppose that tomorrow a purely naturalistic explanation of consciousness were vindicated and the hard problem no longer existed, would the absence of the hard problem of consciousness mean that the God hypothesis on its own would be less likely? It seems to me, then, that the God Hypothesis is more likely given that consciousness is a hard problem for the naturalist. That is, consciousness is less surprising given the existence of God than the non-existence of God.

6. Testimony from scripture: Yes, testimony is a form of evidence! Sure, you might have your doubts about the authority of scripture. But if there were no scriptures or testimony at all, theism would be even less likely, wouldn’t it? Suppose that you lived in a universe where no sacred scripture existed at all. No one claimed to have a revelation. You might not think that testimony from scripture sufficiently proves that there is a God, but surely it is some evidence.

7. Contemporary miracle claims: Again, you might have your doubts, but imagine a world where there were absolutely no miracle claims at all. Such a world would make the existence of God less likely, so obviously claims of mystical experiences, healings, visions, and apparitions have to count in some way.

8. Common consent: Most people in most ages thought there was a god or Gods. If most people throughout time were atheists, and only a tiny minority thought God belief was reasonable, that would make God’s existence less likely since we wouldn’t have to devise ad hoc hypotheses to explain the ubiquity of God belief. In and of itself, God’s existence is more likely if most people believe there is a God than if hardly anybody does. That is, absent strong defeaters, when most people think something is the case, that counts in favor of the hypothesis.

9. A natural desire for God: This is related to common consent, because this is the common natural desire for God. The universal desire for a transcendent being is found across cultures. Non-theistic psychologists, like Freud accounted for this religious desire by appealing to the Oedipus complex and the development of totems. Evolutionary psychologists say that our desires and beliefs have their origin in a hyperactive agency section device that has aided our survival. But the psychological and evolutionary genesis of our natural desires for God and transcendence are not evidence against God. After all, the naturalist wants to say that truth-tracking has survival advantages, generally. C.S. Lewis noted that all natural desires have a corresponding object that satisfies the desire. We desire food, there is food. We desire sexual gratification, and we can attain it. We desire warmth, there is fire. Now we also have artificial desires that have nothing to do with our natures and there isn’t always a way to satisfy those desires. For instance, I might desire the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound, and without technological advances, I’ll never be able to do that. But the desire for God seems to be a part of our nature. And if all other natural desires can be satisfied by something that exists, the desire for God is some evidence in favor for God. Put another way, if we generally did not feel a desire for transcendence at all, if belief and desire for God were artificial creations of capitalism and marketing, or science fiction, theism would be less likely.

10. The coherency of the concept of God: Natural theologians and philosophers of religion have examined the coherency of a perfect being and arguments for inconsistency among the attributes have been addressed to the point where many atheists avoid inconsistency arguments altogether. The attributes of God are adjusted to avoid logical paradoxes and impossibilities. Arguments for the logical consistency and possibility of a perfect being were advanced first by Leibniz and then Gödel have been further refined by Maydole, Pruss and many others. Furthermore, the concept of God has been productive in this history of philosophy, and has pushed philosophers to make important and fine-grain distinctions: substance, subsistence, nature, and persons. The concept of God has refined our understanding ontological categories like relations, accidents, essences, what it means to be a se. Also, the God concept has expanded our notions of modality to the contemplation of possible worlds, and in distinguishing different modes of necessity. It has introduced us to the concept of divine simplicty, generated fascinating discussions on the nature of universals, the nature of time and eternity, and the nature of ethical commands and duties. Could the concept of a perfect being be inherently incoherent yet has been so philosophically useful? The concept of God provides provides so much traction that one is forced to carefully think through other concepts when they are related to God. But incoherence provides little traction, since the principle of explosion means that anything could be the case. Why were the scholastics making such careful distinctions? It seems to me that they realized that the concept of God implied very specific things and not just anything. But given the S5 axiom of model logic, the apparent logical consistency of the concept of God is strong evidence that God actually exists. Again, the evidence here is not the coherency of the concept of God itself, but the years of scrutiny and utility of the God concept.

11. The rational “discoverability” of the universe: Induction is rather inexplicable on naturalism, but is unsurprising if there is a personal intelligent creator of the universe. In other words, induction is an intractable problem for those who deny that God exists. Any evidence in support of induction question-beggingly relies on induction. Most just pragmatically move on without really sweating over whether induction is justified. If tomorrow it turned out that induction no longer provided legitimate justification for beliefs, naturalism would have nothing to explain, but theism would be harder to believe. Hence the success of induction, the law-like behavior of nature, and the scientific enterprise generally, is evidence in favor of theism.

12. Change: Given that anything that undergoes change is actively changed by something non-identical to it, change is evidence that an unchanged purely active changer exists. One can derive various other divine attributes of a purely actual unchanged changer, like uniqueness, omnipotence, necessity, simplicity, aseity, goodness, etc. through subsequent proofs. To me, the empirical evidence of change supports classical theism. In a world were change does not occur or is an illusion, there is less evidence in support of classical theism.

Are these lines of evidence sufficient to prove God exists? I leave that assessment to the reader. I cannot pretend to know what makes evidence sufficient for belief. We all must assess the evidence ourselves and consider which beliefs we are committed to. If admitting the hypothesis that God exists means that one must abandon other deeply held convictions, one must consider the cost of accepting God belief over and against abandoning those other beliefs. At the same time, I’m not claiming that the evidence I have presented is decisive or cannot be explained away by other facts. The point of this post is merely to say that there is some evidence. And so there is. To claim otherwise is patently false.

The Ontological Dilemma Against Gratuitous Evil

Here is a quick one, two, as it were… A good reason to think God exists and that the problem of evil is unsound1:
1. Either the concept of a maximally great being (a being that is omniscient, omnipotent, and morally perfect in every possible world) is self-consistent or not.
2. If the concept of a maximally great being is self-consistent, then there is at least one possible world where a maximally great being exists.
3. If there is at least one possible world where a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in every possible world.
4. If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then a maximally great being exists.
5. If the concept of a maximally great being is not self-consistent, then the atheologian does not provide sufficient justification for arguing that the existence of a maximally great being entails the impossibility of gratuitous evil.
6. The atheologian provides sufficient justification for premise that the existence of a maximally great being entails the impossibility of gratuitous evil.
7. A maximally great being exists.
8. If the atheologian provides sufficient justification for the premise that the existence of a maximally great being entails the impossibility of gratuitous evil, then the existence of a maximally great being entails the impossibility of gratuitous evil.
8. Gratuitous evil is impossible.

I think the atheologian would have to object to (5) or (6). Giving up on (6) would mean that the atheologian abandons defending the problem of evil. I am more interested in denying (5). The denial of (5) means that the atheologian can provide sufficient justification for the premise of the problem of evil while the concept of a maximally great being is not self-consistent. This seems implausible to me, since most atheologians appeal to a conceptual analysis moral perfection, omnipotence, and omniscience in explaining what might be entailed by those properties. No atheologian whom I am aware of appeals to the non-self-consistence of a maximally great being in justifying those premises. So the practice of atheologians betrays the fact that they rely on a justification grounded in self-consistency rather than, say, the principle of explosion.

One might object and say that the atheologian is agnostic towards whether a maximally-great being is self-consistent. Instead, they use the problem of evil to defeat the idea that a maximally excellent being exists (a maximally excellent being has omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection). They reason that if a maximally excellent being fails to exist in this world, then a maximally great being is impossible. A couple of responses might be ventured. 1) Given divine simplicity, God is identical to God’s attributes. This means that a maximally excellent being is essentially distinct from a maximally great being, if it is not the case that a maximally excellent being’s attributes are non-identical to necessary existence. So the non-existence of a maximally excellent being would not rule out the possible existence of a maximally great being. And 2) the self-consistency of a maximally great being should not be undermined by something external to it. Since gratuitous evil is said to be external to maximal greatness, it should not be a defeater for self consistency, and so no a defeater for the logical possibility of a maximally great being. A maximally great being, on the other hand, is a deafeater for gratuitous evil, if our atheologians have done their homework properly.

1The formulation of the argument in terms of consistency is inspired by the formulation of Plantinga’s modal ontological argument here:
K.E. Himma. “Anselm: Ontological Argument for God’s Existence” in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.