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« Simon Blackburn on Plato's Cave | Main | John Cottingham on The Meaning of Life »

June 09, 2007


Kinch Feuerbach

This is a very interesting interview. Stephen Law is incisive and certainly doesn't hold off from difficult questions. His discussion of the equal plausibility of good and evil God hypotheses is particularly intereresting. Naturally, as a theist, I didn't find him convincing - he did not, for example, address theodicies that work evil into the very basis of creation...that is they hold evil as a necessary product of the act of creation. However, I think it would be good for all theists to listen to this (and others like it) podcast and, if needs be, to abandon their faith or at least to think carefully about it. A fine post, I hope to see more like it.
K. Feuerbach


There is an interesting response to Stephen Law's claim that the widespread apparently pointless suffering we see makes God's existence improbable. The response is represented in the writing of Steve Wykstra. What we see makes a hypothesis plausible only if it's reasonable to believe that what we see would be different if the hypothesis were false. So the apparently pointless suffering we see supports atheism only if it's reasonable to believe it would look different if God exists. But is that belief reasonable? Probably there are connections only God knows of between sufferings and goods, so that goods we see often result from apparently pointless sufferings. Also God is probably aware of goods 'beyond our ken'; many sufferings that look pointless to us result in them. Further, resulting goods may well be realized elsewhere in the universe or be reserved for the future or an afterlife. We can hardly guess what the good-securing strategies of an omniscient all-good creator would be. As what we see of suffering might very well look the same if God exists, the appearance of widespread pointless suffering provides no support for atheism.

Another difficulty: even if what we see of suffering is strong evidence against theism, it doesn't follow that theism is improbable. For that evidence might be trumped by evidence for theism. Law rejects some popular arguments for God's existence, but there are plenty he doesn't mention (represented by philosophers like Richard Swinburne and Al Plantiga). Also there may be adequate defenses for those popular arguments, which are in any case meant to functional cumulatively in conjunction with other arguments. I think the case for God's existence deserves more consideration than Law can give it in his brief interview. Atheism is no slam dunk.


It`s always interesting to have the opportunity to hear people`s opinions on themes like theodicy. Steven Law`s conclusion would seem to be that the existance of a theistic God is highly improbable. Apparently other concepts of God such as deism are not affected by his arguments.

I find the inerviews concise and highly comprehensible but I would like to ask why you usually choose to call on atheists to speak on religious topics. Do I detect an element of bias?



Jim - I deal with the Wykstra type move in the long paper on this topic that I have coming out in Religious Studies. A rough version is on line here:

Basically, the same Wykstra-type move can be made to defend belief in an evil God. Which is absurd. That's Wykstra refuted, then.

Himangsu Sekhar Pal

If God is the ultimate being, then that God cannot be good. When we are saying that God is good, we are passing some judgment about God, we are saying that He is good. But by what standard of goodness are we judging him good? From where has it originated? As believers say that their God is the all-thing and everything that is there, therefore this standard of goodness can originate from God only, and not from any other source, because except that God there is no other source from which it can originate. So we are judging God good by His own standard of goodness. But this is a dangerous principle. Because if this principle is followed in other cases also, then there will be complete chaos. Then everybody will start claiming that he should be judged for his action by his own standard only, and not by the standard of other people, society, or state. And he can legitimately claim this, because he will say that God has made man in His own image. So the principle that is followed in case of God should also be followed in case of each and every single human being. Why should there be any deviation from that principle in case of man? Is he not created in God’s own image? So, after killing six million jews Hitler will claim that he is innocent, because he thought it absolutely necessary to efface their race from the surface of earth, in order to save mankind from future disasters. Therefore by his own standard of goodness and badness he has done nothing wrong.
Therefore the above principle will have to be abandoned and we will have to seek some other principle. In that case if we say that God is good, then we will have to admit that the standard by means of which we judge God good has not originated from Him, but from some other source. Here there are two possibilities:
1) This standard is prior to God,
2) It is co-eternal with, but not originated from, God.
In none of the two cases above, God is the all-thing and everything that can be there. So believers cannot claim that their God is the all-thing and everything that is there, and at the same time claim that He is good.
Bertrand Russell, although an atheist, has already shown that God cannot be good, for the simple reason that if God is good, then there is a standard of goodness which is independent of God’s will. Here Russell is also admitting that if God is to be judged good at all, then He will have to be judged by a standard that should not, and must not, have originated from God. In Hindu mythology, Brahma (Supreme Being) is said to be beyond good and evil. He is neither good, nor evil. But both good as well as evil have originated from Him, who is neither good nor evil.
The main problem is that most of the believers are irrational people. They attribute to God many properties that cannot be attributed to Him legitimately. A God who is one cannot love, cannot hate, cannot be cruel, cannot be merciful, cannot be benevolent, cannot be all-loving, cannot be just, etc. If we say God is love, then before creation whom did He love? So if we say that God is love, then it can only be self-love. If we say that God is cruel, then we will have to admit that He is cruel to Himself. If we say that God is all-loving, then we will have to admit that this “all’ is co-eternal with God, and that therefore He has not created us at all. So we should not revere Him, for the simple reason that he is not our creator!

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