Monday, 14 November 2011

Fumbling Feser

Edward Feser, Catholic philosopher and big fan of Aquinas, wrote a post a year ago explaining why he thinks the evil God challenge doesn't apply to his sort of non-personal, classical God-of-the-philosophers. This is because Aquinas et al demonstrated that anything that's God must be good, given the medieval background metaphysics. Hence an evil god is impossible.

I pointed out that showing an evil God is impossible is irrelevant (I also pointed this out in the paper "The Evil God Challenge" which Feser has read). Even if there were a conceptual problem with the idea of an evil God (and there may also be similar problems with the notion of a good God, actually, but let's set that worry to one side), that does not prevent the evil God challenge from being run. Feser still can't understand why, but here's the reason.

Assume an evil God is conceptually impossible. Nevertheless, there might also be powerful empirical evidence against an evil God. In fact there is - far too much good in the world. And if that empirical evidence is sufficient to rule an evil God out beyond reasonable doubt (at least until some very good counter-argument etc. is forthcoming), why then isn't the evil we see sufficient to rule a good god out beyond reasonable doubt(at least until some very good counter-argument etc. is forthcoming)?

Some have objected that if something is ruled out conceptually, then it makes no sense to suppose there could also be empirical evidence against it. But it seems there can.

For example, William Lane Craig's cosmological argument relies on the thought that an infinitely old universe is a conceptual impossibility. Yet Craig also thinks there's also good empirical evidence that the universe is not infinitely old (i.e. evidence for a Big Bang). So he, for one, accepts that something that's ruled out conceptually might also be reasonably ruled out inductively, on the basis of empirical observation.

Anyhoo, Feser has responded again, in a post called "Broken Law", repeating the same old points. So I thought I'd call this post "Fumbling Feser" in reply. As Feser continues to fumble and drop the ball on the evil God challenge. He continues to maintain it just "doesn't apply" to his classical God. In fact, it does apply. Which is not to say it cannot be met (perhaps even by the construction of a cogent demonstrative proof of the existence of a good God, whether personal or non-personal, perhaps even in the style of Aquinas).

So here's my latest comment on his "Broken Law" post...

Hi Edward

You say:

"Suppose, finally, that you also think there are demonstrative (as opposed to merely inductive or evidential) arguments for the existence of the God of classical theism -- that you endorse an Aristotelian argument from motion to a purely actual Unmoved Mover, say, or Aquinas’s “existence argument” in On Being and Essence for something that is subsistent being itself, or a Neo-Platonic argument for a source of the world that is an absolute unity. If such arguments work at all, then given the background metaphysics, they prove conclusively (and not merely with some degree of probability) that there is a God who cannot in principle be anything less than perfectly good."

Perhaps you have such an argument. In setting out the challenge, I don't claim you don't. This is the bit you still don't understand. The evil God challenge is a challenge. Perhaps the above meets it. Perhaps not. But the above does not show that that the challenge does not apply, i.e. because if correct it shows an evil god is impossible.

Showing an evil God is impossible is irrelevant, for the reasons I explained and which you still don't get.

Demonstrating there's a good god IS relevant, but it is simply a way of meeting the challenge, rather than showing it "does not apply".

You may think this is a fine distinction that doesn't matter much, but it does matter. Because it leaves the very powerfully formulated version of the problem of evil set up via the evil god challenge still on the table, rather than just swept aside on the grounds it "doesn't apply".

Do your medieval "demonstrations" that few philosophers find persuasive really carry much weight against my otherwise overwhelming empirical evidence that your God does not exist?

We'd need to examine them and find out. Though, as I say, the verdict of the philosophical community is already in.

I know you think that's because most philosophers don't really understand them. Actually, I am pretty familiar with arguments of your sort. I've even read your book on Aquinas.

In effect, your response to the evil god challenge is just to say *the evidential problem of evil* "doesn't apply" to your classical God. Because you can demonstrate your God exists.

As a response to the problem of evil - and my evil god challenge - that's obviously hopelessly question-begging.

POSTSCRIPT: The moral is, if you think you can ignore the evil god challenge because you think you can show a priori that an evil god is impossible, think again. That does NOT deal with the challenge. Feser's objection is just an illustration of this more general error.

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