Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The Evil God challenge - skeptical theist response

I just put this comment as a reply to a comment made on the preceding post. As it's so long, and contains some details that may be of interest to others, I am also posting it here...

Hi Brigadier

The Evil God Challenge is supposed to be a challenge. The challenge is to explain why belief in a good god is significantly more reasonable than belief in an evil god. Craig tried to meet the challenge, but failed. I see you are coming close to admitting that he failed, as you are now attempting to bolster his arguments with additional arguments of your own.

Do your arguments succeed?


I said earlier about intuitions generally that: "you can't just drop them without adequate justification."

You agreed, but said about our intuition that there’s more than enough empirical evidence to reasonably rule out an evil god: “Sure, but the point is that once you realize certain metaphysical/logical distinctions of which you were previously unaware, then you also realize that your intuitions, because insensitive to such distinctions, went astray. Your previous intuitions then cannot be used as justification for your beliefs.”

But that there is reason to reject such intuitions is, at this point, pure assertion! You need to justify your claim that this particular intuition is unreliable. And what is your justification? It’s this:

“God knows a lot more than I do; ergo, God knows a lot more about morality than I do; ergo, there are probably a lot more moral properties than I realize. But if that is true, I can't claim with confidence that none of these properties form the justifying goods for the many evils for which we cannot find apparent justification.”

This obviously won’t do as it stands. Suppose aliens of vastly greater intellectual and other powers visit earth. They kill and eat our kids. We watch as they parade with our with our kids’ heads stuck on poles, while sucking the marrow out of their bones. They makes us watch. We say: “Why, these aliens are terrible, evil things!” But someone says. “Ah, but they know a lot more than we do. Ergo they know a lot more about morality (especially the long term moral consequences of their actions) than we do. But then we cannot claim with confidence that there aren’t moral properties unknown to us but known to the aliens that form justifying good for the many evils they do for which we cannot find apparent justification.”

You will have to agree with that assessment, given the argument you just gave above. You must say, “Why yes, how silly of me – I now see my initial response was just an unreliable intuition resulting from my ignorance of certain metaphysical/logical distinctions. In fact, there’s no good empirical evidence that these aliens aren’t entirely caring, benevolent beings.” This would be a borderline insane response I’d suggest. And also bullshit.

Of course (I’m now doing your work for you), you might now try a different argument, perhaps one that stresses God’s *infinite* wisdom, which aliens, being finite beings, will lack. But why would introducing infinite wisdom transform your ludicrous argument into a good one? Why would that fact that God has infinite wisdom, if he exists, mean there’s no limit to the horror that can exist in the world without it being pretty good evidence there’s no such god? Argument please.

Remember, it’s not good enough to show, what is obviously true, that if there’s such a God, there will probably be some evils the justifying good for which will be unknown to us. You need to establish much more than that before you can justifiably sweep hundreds of millions of years of horror - e.g. of animals that must tear each other limb from limb to survive, of millions of generations of children about a third to a half of whom died slowly and agonizingly of disease or starvation before the age of five - under the carpet of “god’s mysterious ways”.

Incidentally, I also note that Craig’s cosmological argument relies on the claim that actual infinities are impossible. Which is why infinity doesn’t crop up in Craig’s characterization of God (so far as I can see). So this “infinite wisdom” move would appear to be blocked in any case - if I've understood him correctly.

Earlier I said:

"Also notice, by the way, that … the skepticism you're invoking to save your God belief from being empirically falsified would seem to be ridiculously endemic. It spreads to other beliefs. For example, it then follows we can't know God doesn't have good reasons for making it look like the world is older than 6k years even though it's not. So, show a little faith and stick to the scripture!"

You, Brigadier, have just replied to this: “I deny this follows because we can see that some things, such as lying, are intrinsically wrong, and will only be justified in very special cases, if at all, and that none of these cases will apply to God. Greater goods are relevant to extrinsic wrongs.”

You seem to be suggesting that God’s making a world that looks as it does, if it is 6k years old, would involve him lying. And God wouldn’t lie. I now reply: Who says God would be lying if he made a world that looks like it's much older than it's actual 6k years? Was he lying when he made a world that looks like it doesn’t move? No.

So, your counter-intuitive and inadequately justified skepticism regarding the possibility of us reasonably ruling out various god hypothesis on the basis of empirical evidence also has the apparent further absurd consequence that you have no good empirical reason to reject Young Earth Creationism. Your belief that the empirical evidence undermines YEC is, it turns out, just an “unreliable intuition”! One that Wykstra et al have shown to mistaken. You should abandon that mere intuition!

I might also add that, if this implausible degree of skepticism were adopted, then we would not be in a position reasonably to conclude on the basis of observation that mice are not the thing that God values most. True, this may not seem like the kind of world a mice-valuing God would create (it’s not sufficiently mice-friendly or mice-centered). But, for all we know, God’s apparent utter disregard for the well-being of mice, and, indeed, apparent sadism towards them (cats etc.), is really no evidence at all that he doesn’t value mice above everything else.

This degree of skepticism would be a wholly implausible, ad hoc way of salvaging belief in a mice-centered God from empirical refutation. It’s no less an implausible, ad hoc way of salvaging your belief in a human-centered or good-centered God.

One last thing. You continue to ignore my point that, in any case, even if skeptical theism COULD be shown to be true, it goes NO WAY AT ALL towards showing why belief in a good god is very significantly more reasonable than the absurd belief in an evil god. So it goes NO WAY AT ALL toward answering the evil god challenge.

But in any case I note that we have now strayed way beyond the parameters of anything Craig said in the debate or above. Craig has clearly failed to meet the evil god challenge.

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