After having looked at Randal Rauser’s reasons for being a Christian, and having had my reasons and his defences intensely debated on his blog, I have in a previous post offered Dr Vincent Torley’s account. Some readers may know Vincent from the Uncommon Descent website which attempts to refute evolution. I have argued with him at length when I used to write for John Loftus more often at Debunking Christianity. Here is his bio:
Vincent Torley is originally from Geelong, Australia. After obtaining a B.Sc., a B.A. and a B.Ec. from the AustralianNationalUniversity (all at no cost to himself), he worked for several years as a computer programmer in Melbourne, during which time he obtained an M.A. in philosophy from the University of Melbourne. In 1999, he moved to Japan to take up a job as an English teacher, returning to Australia for a year in 2001 to complete a Dip. Ed. in high school teaching before going back to Japan, where he has resided ever since. He obtained a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Melbourne in 2007, while studying in Japan. He currently teaches English in high schools, as well as teaching English conversation and business English. He is married and the father of a seven-year-old son. His personal Web page is at http://www.angelfore.com/linux/vjtorley/index.html
I have split this up into multiple parts as it is very lengthy (whilst he didn’t have that many paragraphs, he made them massive!). I have also taken it upon myself to split it into Points so that it makes it easier to reference. I hope both of these actions are OK with Vincent.
Please make every effort to have a civil and discursive back-and-forth. I hope some interesting discussion can be had. Thanks to Vincent, as it takes some guts to put your beliefs in the firing range, but it is what we should all do. Over to Vincent for the second part of his account:
Fifth, the argument assumes that the only morally significant beings who exist in the cosmos are God and ourselves – i.e. the sentient human and animal life-forms that we see all around us. But that’s a ridiculously narrow view. If there is a God, then He could have made rank upon rank of beings higher than ourselves, whom we know nothing about, because they’re invisible to us. Call them angels or advanced aliens, if you wish: I don’t care. The point I wish to make is that if there is a God, then it’s highly unlikely that we are the greatest beings in creation – which means that when deciding what God should and shouldn’t do, we also need to factor in God’s obligations vis-à-vis these higher intelligences. Why might that ameliorate the problem of evil? Perhaps God assigned certain responsibilities for looking after the lower orders of creation (including ourselves and other sentient animals) to these higher beings. (Think about it. It would be funny if they had absolutely nothing to oversee, wouldn’t it?) And now suppose that some of these intelligences turn out to be either too lazy to continually keep the world’s evils in check, or too inept to do the job properly, or positively evil characters. The world would soon become “unweeded garden” filled with “things rank and gross in nature”, as Hamlet put it. It might look utterly unlike the world God originally planned. So what’s God to do, when He sees the damage that these higher intelligences have wrought, and the suffering His lower creatures (animals and humans) have inherited as a result? Having delegated some responsibilities for overseeing creation to these higher beings, should God intervene at once and fix up the mess they’ve caused? Or should He wait a while?
Sixth, and most importantly, the argument assumes that an omniscient God knows what His creatures would and wouldn’t choose to do, before He’s even decided to make them. But when you come to think about it, that really doesn’t make sense, if sapient beings possess libertarian free will. In that case, God’s knowledge of His creatures’ choices would be (at least logically) posterior to His act of creating them. All God would know ”prior” to that act would be what they might get up to. But is God morally obliged to refrain from creating a sapient creature, simply because it might abuse its capacity for good and evil, and wreak untold harms in the world? I think not, for if He were, then He’d be obliged to create a world without libertarian free will. And how many of us would want that? I conclude that the problem of evil is a real problem only in relatively simple cosmos, in which we’re the most important beings there are. But if there’s a God, the cosmos may not be like that at all. The presence of other agents with libertarian free will in the cosmos, who are much greater than ourselves, complicates the picture: we can no longer say with confidence what God should and shouldn’t do in such a cosmos, when it comes to removing evil.
I’ll just say a little about Jonathan’s big question: why don’t animals photosynthesize instead of preying on one another? Well, that wouldn’t work, as they couldn’t obtain enough energy to meet their daily needs. So meeting Jonathan’s request would mean altering the laws of physics, with who knows what consequences. I’ll also note that death from predation is a good deal les painful than death from starvation, thirst or cold. I should also add that animal deaths from predation wouldn’t be a theological conundrum if animals died painlessly. Maybe that’s what God originally intended, before His handiwork was fouled up by other intelligences. Finally, I do not believe we can rule out animal immortality. At least some Christians have believed in it for 500 years now, so it’s not a trendy modern notion. That still leaves animal suffering on Earth unexplained, of course.
Of course, I realize that there are some people who think that the very notion of libertarian free will makes no sense. One of the best arguments I have heard against libertarian freedom is that for any choice made by an agent in a particular set of circumstances, there must always be an explanation of why that choice, and only that choice, could have been made – otherwise, they say, the choice is random, which would also preclude it from being free. However, I would question the claim that for any non-random choice, there must be an explanation of why only that choice, could have been made. Surely it’s enough to explain why that choice was made. Additionally, I would argue that a good explanation of why a choice was made doesn’t have to be an explanation in terms of prior physical causes which determine that choice. It could be an explanation in terms of the agent’s future goals. Finally, I would like to point out that a goal-oriented explanation doesn’t have to be a deterministic one. And there are reasons for thinking it couldn’t be, anyway. As John Finnis points out in his book, “Natural Law and Natural Rights”, the basic goods that we choose from cannot be ranked: they are incommensurable. (Which would have been “better” for the young Leonardo da Vinci to have chosen: a career in the arts, or in the sciences?) To reply that we will in fact choose the good that we happen to like best is to assume, question-beggingly, that the attraction of these various goods can be weighed against one another, like the opposing pulls and pushes in some vector diagram. There’s not the slightest piece of evidence that this assumption is true.
Wow, we’re about a third of the way there. So much for a few paragraphs! Kinda defeats the object…
On Point 5, all I can say is that Vincent is appealing to the unknown using exceptionally ad hoc rationalisations without any evidence whatsoever. This smacks of presuppositionalism. This is a badly designed epistemology: Conclude something and then massage the evidence to fit and if it doesn’t, invent stuff to make it fit.
Analyse and investigate the evidence. Create a hypothesis which follows on from the evidence. There is then no need to invent ad hoc rationalisations.
You see, Vincent relies on appeals to more ‘perhaps’s and ‘might’s as discussed in the last post. These are unlikely probabilities. The problem is that even IF God had designed the world so, he is being completely irresponsible by not communicating that to us. Let me remind you of the quote from my Unholy Questions book, available from the sidebar:
282. If my child was to walk on the flowers in my garden, trampling them, it would be immoral to punish him without telling him what he had done wrong. This would communicate to my child his misdemeanour so that he would not do it again. What have we done wrong to deserve cancer, malaria, the tsunami, the Holocaust, disability, cholera etc., and is it right that you have not communicated to us why we have had these ‘punishments’? … The analogy that I use about my child stomping on the plants and being told off arbitrarily after the event is powerful. The fact that ‘high-falluting’ philosophers and theologians argue incessantly, and without sound conclusion, over the nature of evil clearly means that God is doing exactly this. There is no clear communication from God as to why this evil is taking place, as to why we are being punished, if indeed evil exists as a result of some kind of punishment. If evil exists for any other reason, God is still not communicating this, and as a supposedly all-loving ruler I suggest that it is his duty to do so. His subjects are suffering each and every day in a universe where there could be no suffering. As the suffering ones, I believe we have a right to know why this is the case.
God is apparently a morally dubious father, holding back information that would contextualise the suffering. Without giving us the reason, or even clearly telling us that there IS a reason, God is being morally corrupt. Even if I take my child to be immunised, they might not understand the science behind why they are getting injected, but they can be comforted that it will stop them getting ill. Look, humanity aren’t as ignorant as small children.
As far as point 6 is concerned, we have the old Open Theism argument. Open Theists arguer that God does not know the outcome of freely willed decisions. The fact is, I deny free will on both exceptionally strong philosophical grounds and exceptionally strong empirical grounds. Which is why only a small percentage of philosophers believe in libertarian free will. But even granting LFW, we know that we are exceptionally influenced. There are so many pieces of research which support this that even the LFWer has to concede a massive amount of capacity for free will. Whether genetic or social scientific, we have a huge understanding of what motivates our actions. God is the greatest entity in existences. Surely he knows counterfactuals! I think Vincent is conceding a massive amount of God’s omnipotence here, leaving her nothing but a glorified human. Look, if God created everything in existence, chances are he knows how it all works.
Of course, the most damning evidence appears to be the fact that most physicists claim the B-Theory of time was it fits better with all known facts (eg relativity). As a result, it looks like we live in a block universe. Which denies free will as at all possible. See the article here.
Vincent appeals to an argument from desire – that we wouldn’t want to live in a free will denying universe. But this has little to do with reality. Essentially, Vincent appeals to things which don’t exist to try to conclude that God does. He presupposes:
- that God exists
- that we have free will
- that higher beings exist unbeknownst to us
- that these entities have free will
- that A-Theory of time exists and fits best with science
- that Open Theism is true and God is ignorant of human choice outcomes, even though he can somehow choose the ‘best’ of most perfect choice of worlds (ie it is not random)
- God is not morally obliged to refrain from creating a sapient creature, simply because it might abuse its capacity for good and evil, and wreak untold harms in the world
This is not convincing.
why don’t animals photosynthesize instead of preying on one another? Well, that wouldn’t work, as they couldn’t obtain enough energy to meet their daily needs.
Hang on, didn’t God design and create everything? And if he DID have counterfactual knowledge, which he should have at least of the outcome of certain design criteria, otherwise his design of this universe is effectively random, then he knew damn well the outcome of carnivorousness! What do you mean we couldn’t garner enough energy? God has the power to create ANYTHING logically reasonable. And there is nothing logically unreasonable about animals photosynthesising (some already do). Just tinkering with a few figures here and there… All Vincent is doing with all of these answers is taking abilities away from God until he ends up being no more powerful than the president of the US. Apparently, even though he designed physics and biology, it constrains him. Do natural laws constrain God, who actually designed them? Who ontologically brought them into being?
I’ll also note that death from predation is a good deal les painful than death from starvation, thirst or cold.
And I’ll note that that is a fallacious red herring. The ability to photosynthesise would mean there would be far less starvation and has nothing at all to do with starvation or cold.
I should also add that animal deaths from predation wouldn’t be a theological conundrum if animals died painlessly. Maybe that’s what God originally intended, before His handiwork was fouled up by other intelligences.
So a couple of humans sinning caused animals to feel pain. Because that’s fair. Are you serious? This is so morally corrupt as I cannot see how it helps your case in any way, let alone make your god appear OMNIbenevolent! We already know that Original Sin is inherently incoherent:
- If Adam was chosen as representative of humanity in his capability to fail then God designed humanity badly
- If Adam was not representative of humanity then God had no right to choose him and test him to fail and be responsible for the future of humanity and animals for the rest of time
This two-horned dilemma means that OS is simply a non-starter. So really, my big question has not remotely been adequately answered.
On Point 8, Vincent correctly points out the Dilemma of Determinism. But:
However, I would question the claim that for any non-random choice, there must be an explanation of why only that choice, could have been made. Surely it’s enough to explain why that choice was made.
I am not sure i get him here. He is saying it needs to be reasoned, but somehow that that reason leaves a causal gap… I have explained the incoherence of this in what I call the 80-20% problem, which includes:
Which is all good and well, but what about the issue at hand? Well, when people claim we are, say. 80% determined, but that 20% of an action is still freely willed, we have EXACTLY the same problem – we have just moved that argument into a smaller paradigm, into the 20%. Assuming that we forget the 80% fraction which is determined so not being of interest to the LFWer, we are left with the 20%. But this is devoid of determining reasons. So what, then, is the basis of that 20% in making the decision? The agent cannot say, “Well my genetically determined impulses urged me to A, my previous experience of this urged me towards A, but I was left with a 20% fraction which overcame these factors and made me do B” because he still needs to establish the decision as being reasonable. OK, so if that 20% is not just random or unknown (but still grounded in something) and had any meaning, then it would be reasoned! The two horns of the Dilemma of Determinism raise their ugly heads again. We are left with reasoned actions or actions without reason, neither of which give the LFWer the moral responsibility that they are looking for.
It could be an explanation in terms of the agent’s future goals
Which of course are victim to determinism themselves…
I would like to point out that a goal-oriented explanation doesn’t have to be a deterministic one. And there are reasons for thinking it couldn’t be, anyway. As John Finnis points out in his book, “Natural Law and Natural Rights”, the basic goods that we choose from cannot be ranked: they are incommensurable. (Which would have been “better” for the young Leonardo da Vinci to have chosen: a career in the arts, or in the sciences?) To reply that we will in fact choose the good that we happen to like best is to assume, question-beggingly, that the attraction of these various goods can be weighed against one another, like the opposing pulls and pushes in some vector diagram. There’s not the slightest piece of evidence that this assumption is true.
These decisions made taking into account future goals are still deterministic. To say that we cannot fathom the total utility from two sets of choices does not mean the decision is not determined! My laptop doesn’t understand quantum mechanics, and cannot understand the future implications of whether printing the document is better for humanity or worse. It still prints it based on the inputs it has. We choose what we think is the best choice with the information we have, using the faulty reasoning we have (some 60 or so cognitive biases and heuristics) and so on. We are far, far from perfect, but we are determined thus.