PHIL 2 â€“ God and the World
Final Revision Booklet
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Section A - The Argument from Design The word teleological is derived from the Greek word telos, which means ‘end’ or ‘purpose’. The teleological argument is the argument that the universe is organized or designed towards a preestablished end or purpose. The argument is very commonly referred to as the ‘argument from design’, but this wording assumes the very thing that has to be proved. Technically, there are various types of teleological argument, with different philosophers giving them different names. Swinburne (modern philosopher – you’ve come across him already) identifies the argument from design – the most popular form, usually involving an analogy based on the orderliness of nature – and the argument for design (also known as the Anthropic Argument), usually involving a focus on the way in which natural things seem to serve a purpose. The teleological argument is an inductive a posteriori argument. In other words, it infers the existence of God from our experience of particular aspects or characteristics of the world, namely the apparent presence of order, regularity and purpose. Order, regularity and purpose are seen as marks of design, and the argument concludes that God must be the source of that design. The kind of thing that is usually appealed to as evidence of order in the universe is the solar system, with the planets revolving in their predictable orbits, or the human eye. The argument is not a new one. It was very popular in the late 18th and early 19th century and there is presently a resurgence of interest in it. Some modern theists think that it is possible to reconcile science and faith through the idea of Intelligent Design.
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The standard form of the argument The argument is meant to be an inductive inference supported by an argument by analogy. In other words, we have repeatedly experienced designed artefacts being caused by a designer (the inductive inference) – and the world is similar to designed things, so must therefore have a similar kind of cause (the argument by analogy). Although there are variations, the basic argument goes something like this: 1. The natural object X is too complex to have occurred randomly or naturally. 2. Therefore, X must have been created by an intelligent being. 3. Y is that intelligent being. 4. Therefore, Y exists.
inductive inference – inductive reasoning consists of inferring from the properties of a sample to the properties of a population as a whole. So, when we have repeated experiences of B-like events being preceded by Alike events, and then conclude that B-like events are always caused by A-like ones, this is an inductive inference. argument by analogy - in an analogy, two objects (or events), A and B are shown to be similar. Then it is argued that since A has property P, so B must have property P also. An analogy fails when the two objects, A and B, are different in a way which affects whether they both have property P.
X usually stands for the universe or humankind or a given animal species or a particular organ like the eye or capability like language in humans. X may also stand for the fundamental constants of the universe like physical constants and physical law. Sometimes this argument arises from the anthropic (personcentred) principle that these constants seem tuned specifically to allow intelligent life to evolve – of all the possible universes, it seems too great a coincidence that there is life in this one. Y is often a God or Gods, though extraterrestrials are sometimes said to be involved. The creative entity may or may not be both omniscient and omnipotent. In the 19th century the argument (as presented by William Paley) formed an important part of the doctrine of the Church of England. He used a famous analogy (or comparison) to make his point. It is usually known as the Watchmaker analogy: My watch is complex. A watch has a watchmaker. The universe is complex. A universe has a watchmaker.
There are numerous difficulties with the teleological argument in all its formulations, however. It is a logical fallacy to assert that because something appears designed it is designed – so the first and second premises of the argument are questionable. In addition, thanks to Darwin there is an alternative explanation of the complexity of life which is better supported by evidence and also simpler in that it does not use the idea of intelligent design. Besides, even if the first and second premises are accepted, the third premise is rather vague: is the implied designer God as God is commonly understood in the Judaeo-Christian tradition?
History of the Argument 1: Hume’s ‘Dialogues concerning Natural Religion’  The Argument from Design had great appeal in the eighteenth century, particularly in its simpler analogical form. Analogy is simply an argument that similar effects imply similar causes. So, the complexity of nature (an effect) was seen as similar to the complexity of E:\PDFG_temp\pdfg-dharma_svc\18\0fd7-9091d9-c90ab5-2e4017-17d74e-962a94\InputFile.doc Last printed 18/04/2011 12:44 PM
design of human artefacts (another effect) – and the inference was drawn that both had similar causes – a designer. What counted as marks of design in nature were therefore those features in which natural objects resemble machines made by men: the fitting of parts and what can be seen as the adaptation of means to ends. Three kinds of these features of natural objects particularly impressed eighteenth-century thinkers: the world as a whole, especially the solar system as described by Newton’s gravitational theory; the bodies of all sorts of plants and animals, especially certain organs like the eye; and the providential arrangement of things on the Earth. Hume, of course, was sceptical about the Argument from Design. He worked on his critique for some 25 years, which is mainly made in his now famous book ‘Dialogues concerning Natural Religion’. Some of his friends urged him to abandon his book or even destroy it, regarding it as too dangerous and irreligious. However, he made plans for it to be published after his death, and it was indeed published in 1779, after he had died. Cleanthes is the speaker in Hume’s book who is used to put the case for the argument (Philo is the speaker who argues against it). Cleanthes’ argument is something like this: • The natural world resembles nothing so much as a work of human artifice – a "machine". • Though we have never experienced God, we have experienced machines (such as watches and houses). • We know that wherever there is a machine, there is some intelligent designer behind it. • Given that the universe is obviously just an elaborate machine, we can reasonably infer that, just like any other machine, the universe was created by an intelligent designer. • the intelligent designer, i.e. God, must be similar to a human designer, only much more perfect, ‘in proportion with the greater perfection of his art.’ Philo has a number of criticisms to make of this view, of course. Many philosophers regard Hume’s various observations as fatal to the Argument from Design: i)The analogy is false An argument from analogy claims that because X is like Y in one respect, they are therefore alike in some other (hidden) respect. We use analogical thinking all the time, for example to come to an understanding of other people's states of mind based on an understanding of our own: 'I have dropped a piano on my foot, and I feel pain. Derek has dropped a piano on his foot, so he feels pain.' Analogical thinking is certainly effective where the two things being compared are relevantly similar, both on the surface and in depth. But sometimes there is a putative surface similarity, but no underlying deep similarity at all. In such cases we say that there is a ‘false analogy’. In the example above, what if Derek was a humanoid robot? Then he would look like me but actually work very differently from me on the inside, and my analogical thought that Derek felt pain like I feel pain would therefore be a false analogy. So, for analogical arguments: the greater the similarity, the stronger the analogy; the weaker the similarity, the weaker the argument. The key issue, then: is there a relevant similarity between the things being compared? Unfortunately, the analogy between the universe and a machine is weak. The world does not really resemble a machine all that well. In fact, our world is not like a machine at all since it is composed of vegetables and animals. It is more organic than it is mechanical. E:\PDFG_temp\pdfg-dharma_svc\18\0fd7-9091d9-c90ab5-2e4017-17d74e-962a94\InputFile.doc Last printed 18/04/2011 12:44 4 PM
Indeed, Hume proposes that a better analogy would be between the universe and a carrot, since the universe is changing and growing just as carrots do. Furthermore, the analogy is not an analogy between two separately existing entities, but between the universe as a whole and certain parts of the universe (i.e. man and the objects he manipulates). So drawing an analogy between a machine and the universe might be like trying to figure out how an entire man develops by looking at how a single hair in his head grows. Lastly, even if parts of the universe work to an end or purpose, it is a fallacy of logic to then argue that the whole works to a particular end or purpose. ii) Similar effects do not imply similar causes. Hume questions whether it is a sound notion that similar effects result necessarily from similar causes. Consider this case: a. b. c. d.
Working light bulbs and stars both have the property of emitting light; Working light bulbs have this property as a result of being powered by electricity; Like effects have like causes; Therefore, stars have this property because they are powered by electricity
iii) Analogy leads to a very humanised God Where does the analogy stop? It might end up making God more human than divine. Hume argues that there are many parts of the analogy between machines and the universe that believers would not accept at all. a) There are many watchmakers and house-builders. Therefore, by analogy, there are many Gods… b) A machine, such as a watch, takes many years of trial and error and improvement, and each generation is superseded by the next – therefore, by analogy, this universe is one of many, and has probably been superseded by another better one… c) Where there are design faults in the machine we conclude that the designer was careless or lacked skill or thoughtless – therefore, by analogy, a universe that contains so many design faults such as earthquakes and plagues must have been created by a careless, thoughtless or unskilled, infant, or senile God: “This world is very faulty and imperfect, and was only the first rude essay of some infant deity who afterwards abandoned it, ashamed of his lame performance; it is the work only of some inferior deity and is the object of derision to his superiors; it is the production of old age in some superannuated deity, and ever since his death has run on from the first impulse and active force which he gave it.”
d) The makers of the machine have husbands, wives, children, they have affairs, get drunk and behave badly on a Saturday night – therefore, by analogy, the universe-makers behave in this way… iv) Analogy does not lead to a JCI God. Even if we accept that there is a designer of the universe, there are no compelling reasons for accepting that this designer is the classic conception of God (omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent etc). Hume argues that cannot attribute to a cause anything more than is sufficient to produce its effect, and therefore we cannot claim that God has any more desirable attributes than the evidence supports – and surely the mostly plausible hypothesis in the light of the evidence is that if God exists, he has no moral character… v) We have no experience of world-making. E:\PDFG_temp\pdfg-dharma_svc\18\0fd7-9091d9-c90ab5-2e4017-17d74e-962a94\InputFile.doc Last printed 18/04/2011 12:44 PM
Hume was an empiricist, a philosopher who believed that knowledge, or at least reasonable beliefs, come from observation and experience: ‘a wise man proportions his belief to the evidence’. Any argument based on experience is an inductive one, since it relies on prior experiences of B always following on from A for us to be able to say that A causes B. Our argument to recognise that a machine has a designer is clearly an inductive one, because we have a lot of direct and indirect experience of objects being designed. But since God is a unique cause and the universe is a unique effect the argument from design cannot succeed as an inductive argument. Because we have no experience of world-making we cannot reasonably claim that we know whether our universe has been made. Instead, our claim is merely whimsical speculation. vi) There may be other explanations for the apparent order of the universe. Why should divine intelligence be the necessary governing principle behind the world? Hume pointed out that there were lots of alternative governing principles: • what about principles of generation, vegetation, gravity? Why should one of these not be the dominant principle? Indeed, why should different principles not rule over their own natural domains: vegetation in plants, generation in animals, gravity in movements of planets? We cannot project from one limited area to another part or to the whole of nature. (Shame that Hume couldn’t read Darwin here…) • what about blind chance? What if the so-called organised universe was the result of some blind, cosmic accident? Even if it were, any universe is bound to have the appearance of design, since there could be no universe at all if the parts of it were not mutually adapted to some degree. After all, if you empty a bag of marbles they have to fall out in some order.
History of the Argument 2: Paley’s ‘Dialogues concerning Natural Religion’  and the Watchmaker Analogy William Paley wrote his book ‘Natural Theology’ in 1802. Oddly, though, he never refers to Hume. Is this because he thinks he has dealt with the objections Hume raises, or because he is knows Hume’s objections are fatal, or because he never read Hume? Paley’s formulation of the Argument from Design is probably the best known version, since it famously includes the ‘Watchmaker Analogy’. The analogy is not peculiar to Paley, of course: Cicero talks about water-clocks; Robert Hooke suggests that manmade objects like watches only reveal the "Omnipotency and Infinite perfections of the great Creatour". Paley's text was required reading for those aiming to become clergymen within the Church of England. It was the textbook proof of God's existence in the period, possibly because he does use the best biological scholarship of his day to offer an ‘argument to the best explanation’. What does this mean? In his day, there was agreement about the great apparent complexity of the natural environment and no-one had a better explanation for this complexity at the time. There weren’t too many competitors to the Argument from Design at the time – it was the best explanation available to scholarship. Unfortunately, whilst arguments from the best explanation are often a good pragmatic choice, a less charitable way of viewing them is that they are really ‘arguments from ignorance’ - 'We don't understand how this works. It seems designed. So it must be designed.’ It is fascinating to think that when Charles Darwin was completing his studies of theology at Christ's College, Cambridge in 1831 he read Paley's Natural Theology and was convinced by it as a rational proof of God's existence. However, as you will see, as his investigations of natural history progressed he became convinced that "The old E:\PDFG_temp\pdfg-dharma_svc\18\0fd7-9091d9-c90ab5-2e4017-17d74e-962a94\InputFile.doc Last printed 18/04/2011 12:44 PM
argument of design in nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection had been discovered." At the heart of Paley's text is an analogical comparison - of the world with a watch: 'The indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature; with the difference, on the side of nature, of being greater…in a degree which exceeds all computation.'
The analogy he is making is this: my watch is a complex thing (an empirically true statement) my watch was designed and made by a watchmaker (empirically true statement) the world is a complex thing (seems like an empirically true statement) the world was designed and made by a worldmaker (metaphysical hypothesis) Problems with the Watchmaker Analogy Sorry about the repetition…but consider this another chance to ask yourself – which are the most powerful objections to the teleological argument? 1. The analogy is false. Hume (in particular) thought that teleological arguments fail because there is no relevant similarity between designed objects and the universe as a whole. Yes, a watch is complex, and is made by a watchmaker. Yes, the universe seems complex, but no, it's not made by a watchmaker – because the universe isn't complex like a watch is complex… 2. Another reason for rejecting the analogy. The analogy fails in another way too. The things used by the watchmaker to make watches already exist. However, theists claim that their god created things ex nihilo, from nothing. 3. There is a contradiction at its heart. The argument first assumes that a watch is different from nature. The watch is at first thought of as complicated and designed, in comparison to nature, which is uncomplicated and random. But then nature is reconceived as so complicated, complex, and ordered it too must have a creator. Thus, the argument gives the universe and nature two incompatible qualities. 4. Watchmaker, watchmakers, or shoemakers? What if you went further down the beach and found a shoe? Would you assume that a watchmaker made the shoe? No, you’d assume a cobbler did. Therefore, according to the analogy, created life must have a lifemaker, the sun a sunmaker and snowflakes a snowmaker. There might arguably be several creators in the world, each responsible for different kinds of creation. In addition, a watch is made by many people…all of the above indicates, therefore, that the god of the Watchmaker Analogy could be multiple persons, and not even persons that we recognise, at that. Remember Slartibartfarst in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”? – ‘I do the fjords!’ 5.
Who made the watchmaker? – a reductio ad absurdam argument. How is it that we know that the analogy stops where it does? After all, if watches have watchmakers, so do all watchmakers have fathers. Therefore, the watchmaker must have a father…an endless regress beckons – and this is absurd, so the argument must be wrong. Of course, those familiar with the Cosmological Argument will end the regress by suggesting that the original god just is, and doesn’t have an origin or a cause. But what then stops us from using the even simpler argument that the world and universe don’t have an origin? William of Occam would be pleased!
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The statement ‘the universe is designed’ is meaningless. You will recall that A.J. Ayer argued that a meaningful statement can only be one where we know what would falsify it. Hence he argued that “’the world is designed’ is a meaningless statement’ (since) until we can say what the world would have to be like to be not designed, we cannot conclude that the world is designed.”
7. The blind watchmaker, or – there is another and better explanation… Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, puts this point really well in his 1986 book ‘The Blind Watchmaker’. Paley's argument is made with passionate sincerity and is informed by the best biological scholarship of the day, but it is wrong, gloriously and utterly wrong. The analogy between telescope and eye, between watch and living organism, is false. All appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind force of physics, albeit deplored in a special way. A true watchmaker has foresight: he designs his cogs and springs, and plans their interconnections, with a future purpose in his mind's eye. Natural selection, the blind unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose in mind. It has no mind and no mind's eye. It does not plan for the future. It has no vision, no foresight, no sight at all. If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker."
Paley assumes that the universe, black holes, stars, planets, snowflakes, life etc are created. Actually physics, chaos theory and evolutionary theory tell us how most complex things in the world could have evolved on their own, without any help from any "watchmaker". Of course, a theist may object by pointing out that this is a circular argument too. You have to assume a priori that natural systems just appeared and began to evolve, and this a priori assumption is just as unjustifiable as the assumption that God exists. However, this does not mean that the empirical evidence means that you can neither say for absolutely sure that the universe evolved on its own nor that it was created – the reason for this is that the scientific worldview is a testable and falsifiable theory which has great explanatory power, and the religious worldview is not testable or falsifiable…look back at page 2 of your Darwin handout for a discussion of what a ‘theory’ is. Darwin • Charles Darwin (1809-1882) was not himself concerned with philosophical arguments. However, after his publication of The Origin of the Species many thinkers recognised that the apparent evidence of design in nature had another explanation – evolution. Paley’s example of the human eye or the bird’s wings no longer needed to be explained by reference to a designer – millions of years of natural selection was a much more useful, less mysterious explanation. • However some philosophers (theistic evolutionists) argue that evolution does not eliminate God. This is because the old notion of external design has been replaced by evolution. i.e. evolution is the means by which God achieves his purpose.
Modern attempts at Design: the eye argument There have been more recent attempts to use the appearance of design in nature to argue for the existence of God. Many creationists cite the eye as a prime example of a natural entity that is far too complicated to have evolved on a gradual basis: "What use is a partlyE:\PDFG_temp\pdfg-dharma_svc\18\0fd7-9091d9-c90ab5-2e4017-17d74e-962a94\InputFile.doc Last printed 18/04/2011 12:44 PM
developed eye?" However, evolutionists reply that there is a very good gradualist explanation of the existence of the eye. For example, many biological cells not associated with the senses respond to the presence of light. Most notable of this group are photosynthetic cells of algae and plants. Other very primitive organisms have very rudimentary photoreceptive cells that can only tell the difference between light and dark. These organisms use this primitive sense to orient themselves correctly toward light. In other words, much less than a complete eye is actually quite useful. Yet other organisms have clusters of these photoreceptive cells that can distinguish crude shapes. Increasing the complexity, number, and arrangement of these cells will then yield rudimentary eyes that can recognize certain objects by shape and so on until an eye capable of seeing in colour and three dimensions is produced (according to evolutionists, this has happened at least twice with the advent of the cephalopod eye and is currently under way with many other animal groups). Each of these states in the development of a fully functioning eye has modern analogues in the animal kingdom, and each step need only develop through nothing more than mutations and natural selection: those animals with a better ability to sense their environment with photoreceptive cells will survive to produce more young than those that don't have this ability, and so on. Evolutionists thus claim there is no need to invoke divine intervention or intelligent design. Instead, they offer a slow, gradual and ongoing process moving from: 1. No light sensitivity at all. 2. Cells that can sense the presence of light and send a signal to the brain. 3. Development of multiple, co-ordinated cells. 4. Development of a lens to focus the light. 5. Development of the brain enabling processing of this information, into instructions to muscles which operate the organ to detect light in other places.
A final counterargument in the case of the eye is that the human eye, if designed, appears to be a poor design. To a human engineer, the light-sensitive cells in the eye are placed the wrong way around, with the nerve cells placed between the light source and the lightsensitive cells. The optic nerve therefore has to go through the retina, creating the 'blind spot'. A better design would have the cells with the nerves at the back, allowing light to hit the cells directly and eliminating the blind spot – and there are eyes in nature very similar to the human eye (those of squids, for example) where, just by blind chance, the optic nerve follows this better design.
The Argument for Design: The Anthropic Principle / Argument to Design / ‘Fine-tuning’ Argument Also known as the argument from providence or the argument from beauty. The fact that there are so many names for it shows that as an argument it hasn’t really stabilised yet (perhaps). John Leslie (1989), William Lane Craig (1988) and Richard Swinburne (1990) are all recent philosophers who have tried to develop it. The ‘Anthropic Argument’ is a variation of the teleological argument that is built upon the ‘anthropic principle’, the apparent delicate adaptation or balance of conditions that is necessary for human life. According to this fine-tuning argument, even if the origin of all life on Earth can be explained in terms of impersonal natural processes, the mere fact that the universe allows life to exist in the first place is evidence of intelligent design. For instance, for life as we know it to evolve, there must be an unlikely combination of just the right initial conditions and just the right values of a wide variety of physical constants (so-called anthropic coincidences). If any one of the values of several dozen physical constants wasn't ‘set’ to a value extremely close to the actual value we find, then life would E:\PDFG_temp\pdfg-dharma_svc\18\0fd7-9091d9-c90ab5-2e4017-17d74e-962a94\InputFile.doc Last printed 18/04/2011 12:44 9 PM
not be possible in our universe. There are innumerable ways that the universe could work, nearly all of which would mean that life could not exist. The vast unlikelihood of the universe forming with just the right conditions to allow life by chance is presented as evidence that those conditions were actually set by an intelligent being in order to produce life. This statistical analysis of the conditions in which life could not exist, compared to the fact that life does exist, is interpreted as meaning that the universe is a finely-tuned instrument universe, designed for human life. Life is basically a trillion-to-one chance event – even a tiny variation in one of the physical constants that govern the universe (the strong atomic force that holds atoms together, for instance) would mean that the universe would not have existed. So if the existence of life in the universe is so improbable that it is statistically speaking ‘beyond chance’, the most reasonable explanation for the character of the universe is God. However, those with a deeper understanding of what can be inferred from statistics point out that the likelihood of something happening spontaneously being low does not equate to its impossibility. It is vanishingly rare for it to rain in the Sahara – but not impossible. Furthermore, evolutionary accounts of life on earth quite powerfully explain the 'fit' of natural systems…they fit because of co-evolution, not intelligent design… There have been other attacks on the ‘Anthropic Principle’ – some philosophers have responded that the values of the various physical constants aren't really "tunable" and thus couldn't have been "set" to anything other than the values we find; others have suggested that altering the values of various constants does not, in fact, make the emergence of life particularly unlikely; others have suggested that the possibility of simultaneously multiple universes entails that "fine-tuning" may be an illusion; still others have suggested that the universe has existed an infinite number of times and we are simply lucky to be living in one where coincidence has made it possible for life to exist.
Section B – The Problem of Evil Introduction The word "evil" as used in philosophical debates is not to be understood in the sense of horror films and books but in the sense of causes and experiences of pain and suffering, from headaches to famine. You should also regard "evil" as everything that does or could go wrong, everything that is unpleasant, and everything that is imperfect in the world. The problem of evil in theistic terms revolves around attempts to show that it is possible to justify the existence of evil if it complies with God's universal plan, or that God is not directly responsible for it. What is evil? There are lots of ways of conceptualising evil. Think of evil as a cake that can be cut in a number of ways... here’s one way of slicing it. It’s probably the most common distinction. Moral evil – Moral evil refers to the morally wrong intentions, choices, and actions of rational agents. Think of stuff that happens because of human wickedness, perversity, aggression, greed, cruelty and all those other sins that probably sound great to you just right now but are actually pretty dim in the long run. Moral evils, the lot of them. Put that cigarette out! Natural evils – If you sell life insurance you’ll refer to these as "Acts of God”. Natural evil is not caused by human beings, but instead refers to the operations of non-human nature. These natural events (well, natural disasters, really) arise independently of human activity: famines, floods, diseases, dangerous animals, earthquakes, lightning, pestilence and the many other horrid accidents of fate… Some (less common) ways of slicing the cake
some evil cakes…
Metaphysical evil – this refers to what happens because of the way the world is made. Think of our inherent human limitations and defects - ageing, death, decay, deformities… or of chance events - criminals going unpunished, Hitler coming to power. These are metaphysical evils. Psychological evil – is the human and animal pain, mental anguish and suffering that moral and natural evils may cause. What is the problem of evil?
There are a number of problems (as one might expect…): two important kinds are the logical problem of evil, and the evidential problem of evil. The evidential problem of evil Does the evidence of evil cast doubt on the existence of God? The evidential problem is the problem of whether and (if so) to what extent the existence of evil constitutes evidence against the existence of God, that is to say, a being perfect in power, knowledge and goodness: ‘There’s evidence of evil – so God doesn’t exist.’ Evidential arguments from evil attempt to show that since gratuitous evils exist, it is highly unlikely that the world was created and is governed by an omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good being, on the basis that such gratuitous evils are incompatible with the existence of a god (omnipotent, omniscient, all-good). The logical problem of evil Is the existence of God logically incompatible with the existence of evil? The logical problem of evil is a more general challenge to a belief in a perfect God that is posed by the existence of evil and suffering in our world. According to this version of the problem, it is logically impossible for an omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good God to co-exist with evil and suffering. The problem arises because there is a logical inconsistency between God’s existence and the existence of evil. Consider the propositions below: a) The deity is omnibenevolent or all-good. b) The deity is omniscient or all-knowing. c) The deity is omnipotent or all-powerful. d1) Natural evil exists. d2) Moral Evil exists. The problem is that the first triad is not a consistent one given the truth of d) and e). Theists claim that a), b) and c) are all true, but if d1) and d2) are true then they cannot be. Have a think about why this is for a moment, before reading on…you might want to have another look at the middle of the Hume extract you’ve got on the problem…as usual, Hume puts it very well. These propositions can be used to formulate an argument against God’s existence as follows: if there existed a being that was omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good, then there would be no evil. But there is evil, since there is pain and suffering in the world. So God does not exist, or does not have the powers theists say he does. Maybe God knows about suffering, would stop it, but cannot stop it - that would imply God is not omnipotent. Maybe God is able to stop suffering and would want to but does not know about it - that would imply God is not omniscient. Maybe God knows about the suffering and is able to stop it but does not wish to assuage the pain - that would imply God is not omnibenevolent. Or maybe God does not exist at all… Possible responses to the problem of evil 1. Can the apparent inconsistency be resolved in any manner that preserves all the characteristics of an All Perfect or Supreme Being? Theodicies (sing. Theodicy) try to explain how the traditional idea of the deity could be consistent with the existence of evil. They say: you can have a) + b) + c) + d) without a contradiction or inconsistency. 2. Could one revise the idea of the nature of evil to account for the simultaneous E:\PDFG_temp\pdfg-dharma_svc\18\0fd7-9091d9-c90ab5-2e4017-17d74e-962a94\InputFile.doc Last printed 18/04/2011 12:44 PM
existence of moral evil and a supreme being? If evil wasn’t really evil, then there wouldn’t be a contradiction between God’s qualities. 3. Might one revise one of the triad of God’s qualities that is causing the problem, in order to account for the simultaneous existence of moral evil and a supreme being? Process Theology, for instance, subtly revises quality c), omnipotence. 4. Does the existence of evil lead to the conclusion that there is no deity at all? One might accept that the inconsistency means that God cannot exist, and so reject entirely the underlying premise of a), b) and c). Then d1) and d2) would still be nasty, but not a theological problem. This is the view that Atheism takes, of course. 1. Theodicies A theodicy is an attempt to justify the ways of God to humans in order to explain the coexistence of God and Evil. All theodicies try to defuse the claim that there cannot be a deity if there is evil in the world by altering of the idea of the deity from that of a supreme and all perfect being to something other than that. Consequently, all criticisms of these apologists or defenders involve exposing this subterfuge… It is worth noting that particular theodicies tend to work effectively to justify either natural or moral evil, but not usually both. 1. The Augustinian or Free-Will Theodicy According to St. Augustine, God created man without sin and placed him in a paradise free of sin. He also gave us free will. However, we Fell and were thrown out of Paradise – remember all that naughtiness in the Garden of Eden when we were led astray by Satan? We are therefore responsible for the existence of Evil because Eve listened to Satan and did the Wrong Thing. (You can tell by the Capitals that This Is A Bible Episode From The Old Testament.) So the decline of man and the existence of evil can be explained as a result of man’s weakness in the face of temptation and his misuse of free will. Or her misuse of free will 1. By the way, Augustine thought that this theodicy not only absolved the deity of creating evil but also allowed God to show the world his love by bringing a form or version of himself into the world to redeem us again. Hence he calls the Fall a ‘felix culpa’ or ‘happy sin’. The grace of God (in the form of JC) will save some of humanity, but at the same time, some of humanity will suffer eternal damnation. Hick refers to this Augustinian Theodicy as the “majority report” of Christianity. Why give us free will if it was going to lead to such trouble? Augustine argued that a world in which humans are free, and in which evil occurs, is preferable (to God at least) to a world in which we are not free and where evil does not occur. God creates humans with free will solely because that is better (more perfect) than to create them without free will, and since God is perfect he must do what is best. Why is it better to have free will? You should know this: to create humans who would only do good would be to deny them free will, and free will is a good in itself. So: it is free will that is the source of evil and not God. Better to be free and miserable (potentially) than to be happy robots. That argument in brief again – some key elements of it 1. Evil is the result of human error 1
I didn’t think of this stuff, right? I’m just having to tell you about it…
2. Human error results from free-will, since there is no way to have creatures with free will and not permit the possibility of someone choosing evil. 3. If we didn't have free-will we would be robots. 4. God prefers a world of free agents to a world of robots 5. Evil is therefore an unfortunate - although not unavoidable - outcome of free-will 6. God’s foreknowledge of our deeds does not deny our freedom. But for God to actually intervene would be to take away our free-will and make us into puppets. 7. Therefore, God is neither responsible for evil nor guilty of neglect for not intervening. Arguments and thought experiments about the free will defence Can God escape responsibility for evil even if humans have free will which he has given them? Can the theist really say that God is not responsible for evil because we have and use our free will to choose evil? ‘We are really responsible for evil all by ourselves, entirely without God’s involvement.’ Have a think about the following thought experiments… Example 1: Psycho Sophie – or ‘I told her it was wrong’ Let's say I run ‘Mr CB’s Extermination Supplies’. Suppose Sophie comes in and tells me she wants a Kalashnikov ‘because Denton and Kerridge are, like, dead and stuff.’ Maybe they made some smart-alec remark about style or something. I try and talk her out of it by telling her that murder is wrong, but she won’t take no for an answer. So I sell her the gun and give her some practice time on my shooting range, all the while telling her that what she’s about to do is wrong. No dice. You know what Renouf is like when she’s cross. She leaves and ventilates her former acquaintances. When Officer Dibble arrives to question me about my role, I tell him the whole story and say that I’m not responsible in any way for what happened, since after all Sophie had free will and I warned her not to do it about a million times. Can I get off this lightly? I suspect that most people would say that I bear partial responsibility for what happens since I failed to prevent a dreadful deed when I could have done. And If I am responsible in part for the killings then what about God who gave Sophie life and knew for sure what she would do with that life? After all, God knew that Renouf had a bad side, so to speak. In fact, God must be more responsible than me, since I only had a good idea what she was going to do with the Kalshnikov, whereas God knew for sure and could put a stop to her derangement with a burning bush episode or something. Example 2: Yardenn doesn’t care (because she wasn’t there) Imagine I ask Yardenn to babysit my cats –Vivien, who has bowel problems and a runny bottom, and her daughter Tillie, who has a death wish. They are to play in CB Mansions, my palatial residence in glamorous Leytonstone. In the house is a large Acme MinceCorp meat grinder I use on students who don’t do their homework. I ask Yardenn to keep the kitties away from the mincing attachment and the rest of the grinder parts as they might be turned to mechanically recovered meat slurry for the pork pies and other savoury flesh products served by the school canteen. I return a while later to find that both cats have accidentally fallen into the grinder and been turned into Turkey Twizzlers (so that’s where they come from). When I ask Yardenn what happened she replies, somewhat red-eyed with tears that she ‘only had to nip out to Connie’s house on an errand’, and that she warned the cats before she did so not to climb into the grinder spigot and pull the lever marked ‘Go!’ In fact, she says that she told them that it was very dangerous. They E:\PDFG_temp\pdfg-dharma_svc\18\0fd7-9091d9-c90ab5-2e4017-17d74e-962a94\InputFile.doc Last printed 18/04/2011 12:44 PM
touched those things anyway – they got into trouble of their own free will, and she can’t be held responsible, since she did warn them, and certainly didn’t know for sure what would happen. Can Yardenn get off so lightly? If she did indeed make the claims above, I suspect that very few people would think that she was not responsible for the harm that came to them. Yardenn should have known. And if this is what we probably think about Yardenn, then surely we will think even worse of God, who is supposed to know everything about the past, present and future – and is all-powerful too.
Example 3 - Maary’s shoddy workmanship Imagine Mary has an evil twin who for the sake of convenience is named Maary. The extralong vowel sound is a clue to her character, you see. Maary decides to assemble some skateboards to flog to gullible Year 7s. She randomly downloads instructions from the internet and makes two different models. In testing, she finds that one model has wheels which will inevitably fall off during that all-important ‘fakie ollie grab’ at the Catford Half-Pipe, causing torn trousers and a fatal loss of face in front of one’s so-called ‘crew’. The other model works just fine. She could choose not to sell the dud model, but Maary sells both models anyway, and there are tears both from eyes and to knees amongst the floppy-haired and guitar-playing youth of Tallis. Can Maary avoid being held liable for all that bad stuff? Now imagine extending the analogy to God. He assembles human beings, and knows in advance how each human being will use their free will, and therefore which will choose evil deeds. As creator, God chooses which humans will actually be born and survive – there would be no denial of free will and hence no puppetry if he simply chose not to make human beings (endure) who will choose to do evil. Yet he does not prevent their appearance. Hence even if God is omnipotent and omniscient, he cannot be omnibenevolent, for he allows evil to happen – he chooses the evil that we do… Example 4 – Testing, testing, one, two, three – God’s foreknowledge as a problem This thought experiment focuses on Augustine’s idea that Free Will is a kind of test of our spiritual value. What if God is testing humans by giving them free will in order to determine if they will use that free will to do good or to do evil? Those who use free will to choose the good will be rewarded and those who choose evil will be punished. Imagine that Ollie has a dog, a Japanese Tosa which weighs in at fifteen stone. He likes to test his dog’s choices about what it does. He trains it by calling it ‘Killer’, taking it on walks with a collar made out of clothes-line, and letting it maul strangers and bite smaller dogs, just as it chooses. He knows that the beast is savage and unpredictable, hates loud noises, and will certainly choose to attack anyone it doesn’t know. Always keen for japes, and to test the dog’s choices about biting or not biting, he takes it to Reuben’s house, attaches it to an Acme No. 4 Exhibition Banger (as used to conclude Blackheath Fireworks), and fires the banger and dog through Reuben’s bedroom window just as he is settling down to do his homework. Alas, poor Reuben… Would Ollie be responsible for the harm the deranged mastiff would cause, given that he knew in advance what the dog would choose to do when faced with a testing situation? E:\PDFG_temp\pdfg-dharma_svc\18\0fd7-9091d9-c90ab5-2e4017-17d74e-962a94\InputFile.doc Last printed 18/04/2011 12:44 PM
If the answer to this question is ‘yes’, then how responsible does that make God for evil even if free will is meant to be a test of our goodness? After all, like Ollie, he does know the outcome of every test even before it is administered…isn’t God, like Ollie, pretty much the author of what happens? Is it fair for him to test us knowing the outcome and whether we will be punished or not? Example 5 – Just Gaming – kinds and levels of freedom Here’s another extended metaphor – which tries to get God off the hook instead of landing him in it. Let us agree for the moment that God created the universe and that the universe he has chosen to create exhibits order and law-like regularity. Suppose we regard these regularities as the cosmological rules of, and our lives as, a game. The object of the game is to win, and the prize, for each participant, is a fully developed soul. Now suppose that this game is chess. We each have black pieces and our opponent is Adversity. We each have complete freedom of choice about which moves we make, as long as they are legitimate moves within the game. We make our moves in response to Adversity, attempting to overcome it. We may therefore regard ourselves as free to choose the particular moves we make but the moves we make are determined by the rules, the number and the arrangement of the pieces. There is therefore a case to be made for the claim that someone is not free in how they play the game. The rules not only give sense to the moves, they are the very causal embodiment of the moves and in a deep sense the game, and our participation in it, is not our choice, even though we choose the individual moves. We can be both free and not free at the same time… Can we defuse the problem of evil by seeing our existence as a certain kind of game and thus redefining our view of human freedom? Discussion questions 1. Which kind of evil does the Augustinian or Free-will defence work best with? 2. If Satan and his angels led Man astray, how can we account for the fact that Satan himself exists? Isn't God here responsible for creating an evil being? 3. Are well-behaved robots better than ill-behaved free agents? 4. If God cannot intervene without harming free-will, does this mean that he cannot intervene at all? Would this then make him not as powerful? 5. What would be the difference between a God who could not intervene and a God who did not exist? 6. Does the fact that God sends Christ to redeem the world make up for the existence of evil? Could God have expressed His love any other way? 7. Does the fact that evil exists still cause problems for this theodicy?
2. The Irenaean or Soul-Making Theodicy: a Developmental and Teleological view E:\PDFG_temp\pdfg-dharma_svc\18\0fd7-9091d9-c90ab5-2e4017-17d74e-962a94\InputFile.doc Last printed 18/04/2011 12:44 PM
A reminder: a theodicy is a “vindication of God in establishing a world in which evil exists.” Here’s another one, then: the ‘Irenaean Theodicy’. The Irenaean tradition is named after Irenaeus (130-202 AD), one of the early Greek founders of the Church. It is two centuries older than the Augustinian tradition, and it holds that man was not created as a complete being without sin that proceeded to rebel and fall from grace. Instead, man is in a constant state of flux and creation, in which the existence of evil actually serves a purpose: it provides the necessary process through which we take part in what he calls "soul-making". We are not finished beings, you see – humans are growing from ‘bios’ to ‘zoe’, from undeveloped life to divine love and spiritual life. From this point of view, evil is a means to an end in as much as if it did not exist, there would be no means of spiritual development. Irenaeus held the view that humans (and their souls) are in a state of development. In the first stage, humans are born little better than animals, but at the second stage they develop reason and the capacity for moral judgement. This stage, which has seen the fall and loss of innocence, entails our long and gradual development into spiritually mature beings which are the children of God. An essential feature in this long development is the process of "soul-making". A soul is developed, made stronger, through overcoming adversity which requires free will and a less than perfect world, otherwise souls could not develop. The contention is thus that God allows some evil because it builds positive character in the victims or in others which outweighs the negative value of the evil itself. The end justifies the means. Discussion Questions 1. What kind of evil does this theodicy work best with? 2. Is this theodicy a sufficient justification for evil? It seems to suggest that grave evils can be tolerated if they lead to a greater good for a greater number. But is this right? Have a look at the Ursula Le Guin short story, ‘The Ones who walk away from Omelas”…or think about smoking beagles and other laboratory animals… 2. Does this view imply that some souls are more important than others? (There are Christian and Islamic theologies that are quite happy with this outcome…) 3. Think of Dostoevsky: “… if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price.” Can the suffering of one child ever be justified in terms of what good results? 4. Does the soul exist to be made? John Hick’s update of Irenaeus: mixing the Free Will Defence with the Soul-Making Theodicy Hick calls Irenaean Theodicy the “minority report” (after all, Augustine’s conception of Original Sin has been a best-seller through the ages). He defends a version of it in his 1966 essay “Evil and Soul-Making”, adding in some components of the Free-Will defence. You will recall that according to the Irenaean tradition, man is created in two steps, ‘Bios’ and ‘Zoe’ – or, firstly in the ‘image of God’ and then in the ‘likeness of God’. The first step, the creation of ‘Bios’, the physical universe and organic life, is ‘easy for divine omnipotence’. ‘Bios’ is ‘only the raw material for a further and more difficult stage of God’s creative work.’ This second phase of creation, in which we still are, is ‘the leading of men as relatively free and autonomous persons…towards that quality of personal existence that E:\PDFG_temp\pdfg-dharma_svc\18\0fd7-9091d9-c90ab5-2e4017-17d74e-962a94\InputFile.doc Last printed 18/04/2011 12:44 PM
is the finite likeness of God’. Think of these two steps as creation then spiritualization, if you like. Hick refers to it as the ‘soul-making process’. Hick’s basic argument is that the relationship between God and humankind is a parent/child relationship on a grand scale. For a parent to produce a well-rounded, moral child, there is a two-fold process. First there is the actual conception and birth of the child, which can be compared to the physical creation of man. The second step for a parent is to teach the child the difference between wrong and right and between good and bad. The parent must teach the child how to avoid temptation and live the good life. On a larger scale, man must learn how to live the good life as God sees fit. This second stage …cannot be performed by omnipotent power as such. For personal life is essentially free and self-directing. It cannot be perfected by divine fiat, but only through the uncompelled responses and willing cooperation of human individuals in their actions and reaction… Some would argue that God could have just created man in this final, perfected state from the outset. However, Hick argues that doing so would be akin to God creating man as a pet in a cage. Either we are free, he says, or we are robots – and it is morally better than we be free. Additionally, he argues that such initial perfection would not be nearly as valuable as perfection achieved through trial and error. According to Hick, goodness achieved over a period of time through the trial and tribulation of resisting temptation and sin involves strength and “moral effort.” Hick deduces that God would certainly hold this goodness achieved through strength and “moral effort” in higher regard than goodness achieved by doing nothing more than simply being created in a perfect form: Men are not to be thought of on the analogy of animal pets, whose life is to be made as agreeable as possible, but rather on the analogy of human children, who are to grow to adulthood in an environement whose primary and overriding purpose is not immediate pleasure, but the realising of the most valuable potentialities of human personality. In response to the criticism that a loving God would not create a world full of evil and temptation, Hick once again refers to the parent/child analogy. Even the most loving parent does not indulge his/her child’s every whim. The most loving parents do enjoy providing their children pleasures, but at the same time, a loving parent realizes that there are times when a child must be denied immediate pleasure in order to gain greater values, such as “moral integrity, unselfishness, compassion, courage, humour, reverence for the truth, and perhaps above all the capacity for love.” Thus, according to Hick, the presence of evil is transcended by its necessity for “soul-making.” Why would God create a world with the potential for such suffering? Because we are an integral part of God's creation which has not yet reached its final 'day'. God is still, in a way, creating humanity (using us as tools and as that which is shaped). This earth is seen as a factory for making souls, and it requires the possibility that we suffer in order to provide incentive for improvement. What about diseases and death? First of all, death itself is not necessarily an evil. Maybe the suffering which leads up to it needs explaining, but the death need not be considered evil. Hick points out that in one sense, diseases are yet another 'test' we have to 'pass' – if nothing else, we have much less death and suffering from diseases now than we did in the past (globally speaking, that is). We know how to avoid most diseases and how to treat those we cannot avoid. It can be seen as a sign of immense progress (especially considering where we were 200 years ago) that the most persistent problems are the treatment of AIDS, cancer and genetic ailments. Even with these persistent diseases, Hick points out that these sorts of problems are not without solutions, since this E:\PDFG_temp\pdfg-dharma_svc\18\0fd7-9091d9-c90ab5-2e4017-17d74e-962a94\InputFile.doc Last printed 18/04/2011 12:44 18 PM
is a world in which certain physical laws apply without exception. Without these 'problems', there could be no science, no consistent laws of causation, etc. In fact, a 'Paradise' without suffering would be the worst sort of world for motivating people to learn and to advance morally.
Madden and Hare’s attack on Hick Edward Madden and Peter Hare describe three common fallacies: “all or nothing,” “it could be worse,” and “slippery slope.” They suggest that John Hick commits all three fallacies in his theodicy. For instance, Hick argues that without free will, people would be nothing more than a “pet animal” in a cage. Robots or free spirits, remember? However, Madden and Hare point out that this is a false dichotomy. In fact, it isn’t an either/or situation. To show this, they compare God to a ‘headmaster at a vast progressive school’, much like Mr Thomas at Tallis. At God’s school, the ‘absolute freedom of the students is paramount’, since God does not want to have students who learn only because they fear punishment. Instead, he wants students who learn because of the love of knowledge. However, ‘it is quite unconvincing to argue that because rigid regulation has horrible consequences, almost no regulation is ideal.’ Tallis may be progressive, but it has a modicum of regulation too. Hick also employs this all or nothing fallacy when discussing the “initial epistemic distance” between man and God. According to Hick, God does not reveal much information about “himself” to humans because he does not want to harm the development of people’s attitudes towards Him. However, Madden and Hare disagree. They suggest that this is like God the headmaster never addressing the students, so as to avoid “spoon-feeding” them. Once again Hick utilizes a false dichotomy in asserting that God either must tell all about himself or remain aloof. Madden and Hare also point out that Hick commits the ‘it could be worse’ fallacy: Hick says that our ‘infinite future good will render worthwhile all the pain and travail and wickedness that has occurred on the way to it.’ They wryly comment that ‘we should be grateful to God for not tormenting us for an eternity, but the question remains of why he is torturing us at all.’ Finally, they point out that Hick uses a ‘slippery slope’ argument, since he suggests that if God were to begin removing evil, there would be no obvious point at which to stop – ‘if…divine providence had eliminated Hitler in his infancy, we might now point instead to Mussolini…’ However, Madden and Hare point out that God could remove evil to the point where there was just enough to justify it as a means to an end of soul making. Even if it is necessary for there to be undue suffering to develop our spirituality, there needn’t be nearly as much unjust suffering as there presently is – and the present amount of suffering in the world only increases our resentment towards God (think about Dostoevsky’s tone of voice for a moment…) Discussion Questions 1. Does this argument justify evil? 2. Can we judge any action only by its consequences? 3. Do the means justify the ends? What sort of good might the Holocaust justify? Would it be worth it?
4. The idea of "soul-making" supposes that an individual may be given enough time to learn. Where infants die, or children, how can we view their chances against someone who lives, say, to the age of 80? 5. If a fawn burns to death in a forest fire and no human being ever knows about it, does this apparently unnecessary evil either preserve human free will or builds the character of human beings? 2. Transformation or ignorance: altering the meaning of evil Could one revise the idea of the nature of evil to account for the simultaneous existence of moral evil and a supreme being? 1. What if evil is only a part of the overall good and does not exist in itself? Leibniz suggests that if God is all perfect then any universe created by God cannot be anything less than perfect. If this is so then evil is not really evil at all but some necessary part or feature of the best of all possible worlds. From God’s infinite viewpoint, “evil” is simply a necessary part of the beautiful and good creation that is the "best of all possible worlds". The idea of "evil" is merely a human concept and only seems to conflict with God’s goodness. It is not an objective property of the universe, but is a result of man's distorted and limited understanding, an illusion in our minds. 2. What if God permits apparently pointless suffering for reasons that we cannot understand? We cannot escape our finite human perceptions to get the ‘big picture’. This is sometimes known as the unknown purpose defence. If we could properly understand the nature of God and his creation, then there would be no conflict between evil and God’s putative goodness. Unfortunately we cannot comprehend ‘God’s Good Purposes’, being mere human beings, so the resolution of the problem of evil is (alas) firmly mysterious and beyond the realm of reason. 3. What if evil is merely the absence of good? This is sometimes known as the privative theory of evil: evil just is the absence of some corresponding good. So we do not need to find a cause of the existence of evil, as only positive existences need causes. The only causal explanations here would have to consist in the non-existence of a cause of the corresponding good. Thus, we should not ask the question, ‘why did God cause or create evil?’ Since evil is only a privation, it is not the sort of thing that can be caused or created. A perfectly good being can cause a situation which involves evil, by simply not realising every potentiality for good in that situation. However, many would respond that these redefinitions of what we mean by evil are tenuous. In Leibniz’s case, what assurance do we have that we are living in the best of all possible worlds? Besides, even if evil is nothing but an illusion, illusion itself is an evil since it involves God deceiving us. Further, if we cannot tell the difference between illusion and reality in the case of human suffering, then effectively there is no difference – and so God is still culpable (if He exists, that is…). As far as ignorance is concerned, if you have no idea what reason God has for allowing evil, then for all you know there is no justifiable reason at all for an all-good God to permit it. And redefining evil as the deprivation of good still means that one could ask whether God is responsible for the lack of good, or whether he should have created more of it. Most philosophers would probably say that attempts to eliminate evil by redefinition fail…they are merely plays on words. 3. Process Theology Process Theology tries to deal with the problem of evil by admitting that the nature of God must be different, usually by redefining what is meant by his omnipotence. E:\PDFG_temp\pdfg-dharma_svc\18\0fd7-9091d9-c90ab5-2e4017-17d74e-962a94\InputFile.doc Last printed 18/04/2011 12:44 20 PM
Although the idea can be traced back to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus (lived around 500 BC), the idea again became popular in the nineteenth century with the advent of the theory of evolution, which influenced both philosophers and theologians. Associated with this approach are philosophers such as Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne. For these philosophers traditional theism is incoherent, particularly in light of the discoveries of modern physics. They cite a number of problems: • • • • • • •
God’s determination of the future (or knowledge of it) conflicts with human freedom. Infinite goodness is incompatible with evil. How can a spiritual being be the cause of anything material? Science and the Theory of Evolution has proven the biblical account of creatures wrong. The claim in ‘Genesis’ that the entire universe is created ex nihilo (from nothingness) is incoherent because it is metaphysically impossible to get something from nothing. The “beginning of time” is a self-contradictory notion. God’s consciousness cannot change if he conceives of all infinity at once – but it is necessary to the concept of consciousness that it must change
Whitehead thinks that many of these problems can be solved if God is seen less as an entity than as a process. Nature itself is comprised of creative, experiential events. There are no “substances” or static independent realities. Instead, there are “actual entities”, seen as dynamic collections of events. With this view because all is in causal motion, there is also creativity. There are in addition to the actual entities “eternal objects” – patterns of events which permeate all reality – ‘universals’, if you like. Within the Process view, the reality of the deity has not been fixed and the being is still developing. God is simply a dynamic collection of events, the pattern of which permeates all of reality. How does such a deity enable the Process Theologians to respond to the Problem of Evil? Well, to begin with the eternal process means that the world must contain multiple finite freedom and therefore the possibility of evil. While no particular evil is necessary, the possibility of there being some evil is necessary. Secondly, the traditional concept of God is altered in several ways. For instance, God does not know the future. Since all events exercise some self-determination, the future is not knowable (in principle). However, once something is, then God can know it. If God is not omniscient, then God is also not strictly omnipotent. Instead, God attempts to entice his creations to work cooperatively with him, but cannot force them to do so. He attracts us with his values, but does not force cooperation or compliance. Discussion Questions 1. The view that God is part of the world and suffers with it is an unconventional view of God (theologians have argued for centuries that God is unchanging). This being so, would such a changeable being be God at all? 2. If God is part of the world, why can't he just cause whatever he wants to happen? 3. If reality is changing, does this mean that we can never really know anything - and therefore never know God?
4. Atheism E:\PDFG_temp\pdfg-dharma_svc\18\0fd7-9091d9-c90ab5-2e4017-17d74e-962a94\InputFile.doc Last printed 18/04/2011 12:44 PM
There is no Problem of Evil if there is no deity at all, let alone a perfect one. If all attempts at proving that there is a deity of any kind have failed because they are not psychologically convincing or logically compelling there is no Problem of Evil. For such thinkers the only conclusion that can be reached in light of the absence of evidence and logical compulsion would be atheism – the belief that there are no deities of any kind. For some thinkers, even agnosticism (uncertainty about whether God exists and what his nature is) is not a legitimate position. David Hume In the Dialogues Hume considers an ancient argument based on the existence of evil that is intended to establish this (negative) conclusion. It comes in the form of “Epicurus's old questions” which remain “unanswered” (D, 100). The questions are these: Is God willing to prevent evil but unable to do so? Then he is not omnipotent. Is God able to prevent evil but unwilling to do so? Then he is malevolent (or at least less than perfectly good). If God is both willing and able to prevent evil then why is there evil in the world? What is at stake here is the possibility of vindicating God's moral attributes in face of the existence of evil in this world. It is clear, as Cleanthes acknowledges, that if this cannot be done then the case for theism in any orthodox form will collapse (D, 101). Several different strategies are available to the theist to defuse this problem — that is, theodicies of various kinds. One strategy is to deny the reality of evil and insist that the evils we experience or observe in the world are really “goods to the universe” which are essential for a perfectly good whole. In other words, these are only evils relative to our individual, narrow, human perspective. From the divine perspective, viewing the universe as one system, the removal of such ills or afflictions would produce greater ill or diminish the total amount of good in the world. This strategy may be interpreted as arguing either that there are no real evils in the world (i.e., only apparent evils) or that there are real evils in the world but they are all necessary evils — without which the whole system of nature would not be so perfect (Cp. D, 96; EU, 8.34/101). In respect of the first view, that there is no real evil, Hume takes the view that it is plainly contrary to human experience. The reality of the distinction between good and evil — whether physical or moral — depends on “the natural sentiments of the human mind”. These distinctions, based on feeling, cannot be altered or amended “by any philosophical theory or speculation whatsoever” (EU, 8.34-5/101-03). In the Dialogues Hume opens his discussion of the problem of evil by having Philo (the sceptic) run through a long catalogue of the variety and extent of misery and suffering in this world. He begins with animal suffering of various kinds (the strong preying on the weak etc.) and moves on to human suffering in its numerous forms (illness, emotional torments, war etc.). Even religion (i.e., “superstition”) is a source of fear and anxiety. Despite this catalogue of human suffering and grief, we find ourselves too afraid of death to put an end to our miserable existence. “We are terrified, not bribed to the continuance of our existence.” (D, 99) The conclusion that Philo draws from all this is that “the course of nature tends not to human or animal felicity” –which brings us back to “Epicurus's old questions” (D, 100). The first line of reply to this comes from Demea (the mystic) who argues that “the present evil phenomena … are rectified in other regions, and in some future period of existence” (D, 101). This is a view that is immediately corrected by Cleanthes along similar lines to those that Hume also presents in the first Enquiry. The problem here is that if we grant, with Demea, the reality of evil in this world then in so far as our understanding of God's E:\PDFG_temp\pdfg-dharma_svc\18\0fd7-9091d9-c90ab5-2e4017-17d74e-962a94\InputFile.doc Last printed 18/04/2011 12:44 22 PM
attributes is based on the evidence of his creation in this world, we are in no position to infer the “perfect goodness of the Deity”. Now without some such license of supposition, it is impossible for us to argue from the cause, or infer any alteration in the effect, beyond what has immediately fallen under our observation. Greater good produced by this Being must still prove a greater degree of goodness: a more impartial distribution of rewards and punishments must proceed from a greater regard to justice and equity. Every supposed addition to the works of nature makes an addition to the attributes of the Author of nature; and consequently, being entirely unsupported by any reason or argument, can never be admitted but as a mere conjecture and hypothesis. (EU, 11.26/ 145) Hume's point is not that the reality of evil proves that God cannot be both omnipotent and perfectly good but that we are in no position to claim that we know that God will “rectify” the evil of this world (e.g., its unjust distribution of good and evil) in a future state, since the evidence of this world does not support such a conjecture. Our predicament is like that of a person who stands in the porch that leads into a very different building or structure and must conjecture what the complete or whole plan is like. We may hope or imagine that something better awaits us but the present phenomena do not license a conjecture or hypothesis of this kind (EU, 11.21,24/ 141,143). Faced with this difficulty, Cleanthes insists that contrary to all that Philo and Demea have claimed, we must allow that there is more happiness than misery, more pleasure than pain, in this world. Failing this, “there is an end at once of all religion” (D, 101-02). Philo's response is that this is a fatal concession. Not only will it be hard to prove that there is more happiness than misery in the world, much more than this is needed to vindicate God's moral attributes. Unless all evil is essential or necessary the religious position will collapse. Any degree or kind of unnecessary evil — however small — would tell against the existence of God as an infinitely powerful and perfectly good being. The usual reply to this (echoing God's answer to Job) is that we humans are in no position to tell whether there is any unnecessary evil in this world –for all we know, all the evil in this world is indeed necessary evil. It is arrogance to question God's existence and goodness when we lack understanding of the infinite complexities of his creation. The central thrust of Hume's discussion of evil in the Dialogues is to show that this kind of theodicy fails. I will allow, that pain or misery in man is compatible with infinite power and goodness in the Deity, even in your sense of these attributes: What have you advanced by all these concessions? A mere possible compatibility is not sufficient. You must prove these pure unmixed, and uncontrollable attributes from the present mixed and confused phenomena, and from these alone. (D,103) Philo goes on to point out that even if the phenomena of nature were “pure and unmixed” (i.e., entirely good) they are still finite and so insufficient to prove God's infinite perfection and goodness. The phenomena of nature are, in any case, not only finite, they are a mixture of good and evil, so any effort to prove God's “infinite power and goodness” on this basis is a hopeless task. Here Philo claims to “triumph” (D, 202). Further on, Philo returns to this point. … as this goodness is not antecedently established, but must be inferred from the phenomena, there can be no grounds for such an inference, while there are so many ills in E:\PDFG_temp\pdfg-dharma_svc\18\0fd7-9091d9-c90ab5-2e4017-17d74e-962a94\InputFile.doc Last printed 18/04/2011 12:44 23 PM
the universe, and while these ills might so easily have been remedied, as far as human understanding can be allowed to judge on such a subject. I am sceptic enough to allow, that the bad appearances, notwithstanding all my reasonings, may be compatible with such attributes as you suppose: But surely they can never prove these attributes. (D, 113) Clearly, then, the task required of orthodox theism cannot be to establish merely the possibility that the existence of evil is consistent with God's existence, it is to explain how we can infer God's infinite power and goodness on the basis of our experience of finite phenomena that presents us with a mixture of good and evil in this world. It is this task, Philo maintains, that Cleanthes has failed to perform. The subtlety of Hume's argument is now clear. There is no need for the sceptic to launch a strong argument that aims to prove that God cannot exist on the basis of the real existence of evil in this world. All that the sceptic needs to do is to show that the theist is unable to prove or establish God's attributes of infinite power and goodness given the evidence of creation as we observe it. What the theist must do, in order to meet this challenge, is to show that all the evil that exists in this world (i.e., every last degree and measure of it) is necessary and unavoidable. It is clear that the theist is in no position to support this claim. The mere possibility that this is the case will not suffice to justify the inference to God's infinite power and goodness. We cannot, therefore, establish God's moral attributes along the lines that Cleanthes has suggested. Hume's “concession” that evil and God's existence are compatible may have the appearance of (another) “retreat” from a stronger sceptical position. The significance of this concession should not be exaggerated. While the sceptic cannot prove that there does indeed exist some unnecessary evil in the world, it is nevertheless possible to show that this view of things is in no way unreasonable. Hume describes a fourfold catalogue of causes of evil in this world none of which “appear to human reason, in the least degree, necessary or unavoidable” (D, 107). He asks, for example, why animal creation is not animated entirely by pleasure, as it appears “plainly possible to carry on the business of life without any pain” (D, 108). Similarly, why could God not have been more generous in providing his creatures with better endowments for their survival and happiness (i.e., why is God not more of an “indulgent parent”)? (D, 109-10) Again, why does nature run into such extremes in relation to heat and cold, rains, winds, and so on? Surely things could have been arranged so that these extremes and their destructive consequences could be avoided? Finally, Hume asks why God does not act through particular volitions to prevent specific catastrophes and disasters (e.g., why not ensure there is no storm blowing when a fleet is out at sea)? (D,108) In all these cases, Hume grants, there may “be good reasons, why providence interposes not in this manner; but they are unknown to us” (D, 109). The implication of all this is not just that we have no reason to infer the existence of an infinitely powerful and good God but that we have considerable reason for doubting it. Given these considerations regarding the causes of evil, and the limits of human understanding, what is the most reasonable hypothesis concerning the first cause of the universe? Philo dismisses the suggestion that the first cause is either perfectly good or perfectly malevolent on the ground that “mixed phenomena” can never prove either of the unmixed principles as the first cause. This leaves only two other possibilities. Either the first cause has both goodness and malice or it has neither. Philo argues that the steady and orderly nature of the world suggests that no such (Manichean) “combat” between good and evil is going on. So the most plausible hypothesis is that “the original source of all things” is just as indifferent about “good above ill” as it is about heat above cold (D, 113-4). Nature is blind and uncaring regarding such matters and there is no basis for the supposition that the E:\PDFG_temp\pdfg-dharma_svc\18\0fd7-9091d9-c90ab5-2e4017-17d74e-962a94\InputFile.doc Last printed 18/04/2011 12:44 24 PM
world has been created with human or animal happiness or comfort in mind. Any supposition of this kind is nothing better than an anthropomorphic prejudice (EU, 11.27/146; cp. D, 100). The tendency of Hume's discussion of evil, in both the Enquiry and Dialogues, is to insist on the reality of evil and the doubts that this casts on any claim that the beauty, harmony and order of this world provides us with clear evidence that an infinitely powerful and good being created and governs it. As we have noted, Hume's argument falls short of categorically denying that God exists on the ground that there is unnecessary evil in this world. What Hume's arguments do show, however, is that while it is possible that the reality of evil is consistent with the existence of God this leaves theism with a large and significant problem that remains unanswered. The enormous degree of evil in this world, and the vast range of forms that it takes, are impossible to explain or justify from our human perspective (i.e., given the limits of human understanding). There is, therefore, no basis for inferring the existence of an infinitely powerful and good God in face of contrary evidence of this kind — evidence that provides us with considerable grounds for doubting this conjecture or hypothesis. “Evolution and the Problem of Evil” by Paul Draper Summary by Meghan Ramsay (QCC, 2004) Draper, although hopeful that theism is true, points out that there are two problems that may prevent theism from being true. Those two problems are evolution and evil. Draper uses evidential arguments (arguments that are based upon certain known facts) to show that naturalism (denial of any supernatural involvement in creation) is more likely than theism (the idea that a supernatural being “God” created the world). Draper attempts to show that evolution is more likely to be true on evolution than on theism. He points out that for naturalists, there is a lack of plausible alternatives to evolution, while for the theist, who starts out with such grandiose things as omniscience and omnipotence, anything is possible. Some theists argue that the complex and well ordered evolution of some beings is not possible without divine intervention. Draper gives the example of the human eye. Some theists argue that evolution cannot completely explain exactly how the eye became so incredibly complex. However, Draper points out that no one has yet to offer solid reasons why evolution could not have achieved the complexity seen in the human eye. While Draper admits that there are some gaps in the knowledge that we have regarding evolution, he counters the arguments based upon these gaps by saying that there is no good reason to believe that naturalist solutions to the problems or questions relating to evolution will eventually be found, as many have already been discovered. Draper then goes on to discuss the pattern of pleasure and pain in conjunction with evolution as an evidential argument for naturalism over theism. Draper points out that there are countless connections between pain, pleasure and reproductive success. He notes that humans certainly find “a warm fire on a cold night” preferable to “lying naked in a snowbank,” and then he connects these instances to reproduction. In order for humans to be successful in reproduction, they must maintain a constant body temperature. Additionally, Draper notes that children enjoy playing with one another, which, he argues is the development of a social skill that heightens one’s chances of future procreation. By pointing out that the blind process of natural selection is what drives evolution and that often a strong trait (such as walking upright) that gives a species reproductive advantages would be furthered even though it may also come with weaker traits (such as back and foot problems), Draper argues that natural selection is much more probable on E:\PDFG_temp\pdfg-dharma_svc\18\0fd7-9091d9-c90ab5-2e4017-17d74e-962a94\InputFile.doc Last printed 18/04/2011 12:44 25 PM
evolutionary naturalism than on theism. Additionally, if natural selection drives evolution, it is most likely that the evolution of pain and pleasure also arose from natural selection, thus inherently linking pain and pleasure to reproductive success. Draper says that this idea is furthered by our knowledge that many parts of organic systems are methodically conjoined to reproductive success. Draper states that, â€œthe biological goal of reproductive success does not provide an omnipotent omniscient creator with a morally sufficient reason for permitting humans and animals to suffer in the ways they do or for limiting their pleasure to the sorts and amounts we find.â€? Therefore, Draper concludes, pain and pleasure and their connection to reproduction must be more probable on evolutionary naturalism than on theism. The moral randomness of pleasure and pain (i.e. good persons suffering intense pain and bad persons experiencing great pleasure) is much more likely if the cause of pleasure and pain is related to evolutionary naturalism than to a supernatural God. Although neither naturalism nor theism has been proven to be true or false, Draper argues that the ratio of the probability of naturalism is much greater than the ratio of the probability of theism. Since theism and naturalism are opposite hypotheses, they cannot both be true simultaneously. Therefore, all things considered, evolution and natural selection provides a powerful argument against theism.
Section C – The Religious Point of View Different perspectives (‘seeing-as’) So far we have looked at one argument for God’s existence, The Argument From Design, and one argument against God’s existence, The Problem of Evil. Both arguments operate as though we don’t actually experience God, and that he is absent from our experience, which is why we need to attempt to prove that he does or does not exist. In this way, religious belief is debatable precisely because the evidence is not available to prove the case either way. We don’t talk about ‘believing’ Sophie has blonde hair because we can see it. We simply say she has white blonde, hair, e.g. “her hair is blonde”. Belief is only invoked when we don’t have access to the appropriate evidence. The existentialist philosopher Soren Kierkegaard famously stated: If I am capable of grasping God objectively, I do not believe, but precisely because I cannot do this I must believe. If I wish to preserve myself in faith I must constantly be intent upon holding fast objective uncertainty, so as to remain out upon the deep, over seventy thousand fathoms of water, still preserving my faith. In other words, religious or atheistic beliefs essentially boil down to different ways of interpreting the same information. We believe, because we do not know, you could say.
Perceptual experiencing-as The Theologian John Hick (remember him) has developed an analogy between perception and experience of God. This begins from the idea that perception is not a neutral activity. The visual illusions below illustrate this fact neatly: E:\PDFG_temp\pdfg-dharma_svc\18\0fd7-9091d9-c90ab5-2e4017-17d74e-962a94\InputFile.doc Last printed 18/04/2011 12:44 PM
A more complex duck-rabbit
In all of these examples, one image can be interpreted in two different ways. We can also see the world around us in different, not neutral, ways. For example, we might see patterns in natural objects, like faces in clouds, or have radically opposing views about aesthetic judgements: exactly which member of Take That is your favourite? In other words, we don’t just see, we ‘see-as’ or ‘see-in’. All seeing, it might be argued, involves seeing-as. A Nikon D-50 is a camera to you and I, but to a member of certain Native-American tribes, it is a soul-stealer. How differently would you perceive things if you hadn’t been told what they are? A particular sound is just a sound, a bird-song or the song of the nightingale. A particular smell could be just bitter, or coffee. Under this view, perception always involves recognition – or misrecognition – bringing experience under a concept. Here is a nice poem which illustrates this concept: Camera, or soul-stealer? “A Martian Sends a Postcard Home”, Craig Raine Caxtons are mechanical birds with many wings and some are treasured for their markings-they cause the eyes to melt or the body to shriek without pain. I have never seen one fly, but sometimes they perch on the hand. Mist is when the sky is tired of flight and rests its soft machine on the ground: then the world is dim and bookish like engravings under tissue paper. Rain is when the earth is television. It has the properites of making colours darker. Model T is a room with the lock inside -a key is turned to free the world E:\PDFG_temp\pdfg-dharma_svc\18\0fd7-9091d9-c90ab5-2e4017-17d74e-962a94\InputFile.doc Last printed 18/04/2011 12:44 PM
for movement, so quick there is a film to watch for anything missed. But time is tied to the wrist or kept in a box, ticking with impatience. In homes, a haunted apparatus sleeps, that snores when you pick it up. If the ghost cries, they carry it to their lips and soothe it to sleep with sounds. And yet, they wake it up deliberately, by tickling with a finger. Only the young are allowed to suffer openly. Adults go to a punishment room with water but nothing to eat. They lock the door and suffer the noises alone. No one is exempt and everyone's pain has a different smell. At night, when all the colours die, they hide in pairs and read about themselves -in colour, with their eyelids shut. Sometimes, as with the Necker Cube, we can only see something as this or that: the cube faces either one way or the other. But often there are many layers of perceptual recognition – the object in the sky could be a bird, or a hawk, or a hawk hunting. John Hick, ‘Rational Theistic Belief without Proofs’ Hick uses this idea to argue that religious experience is a kind of seeing-as. The religious person experiences human life and history as an encounter with God, as well as am encounter with the physical world and other people. It is an additional layer of seeing-as, that the non-religious person does not share. But is religious experience really analogous to perceptual seeing-as? Or is t merely a subjective projection of religious meaning onto natural events? Hick accepts that there are disanalogies – an important one being that religious experience isn’t sensory perception and we aren’t perceiving types of object but the significance of events. But, Hick does argue there is an important continuity. First, all perception involves interpretation: making sense of what is perceived by applying concepts. This fork involves an appropriate response in terms of how we are disposed to act in relation to it, for example to eat with rather than write with. We shouldn’t think, therefore, that we can contrast religious
Fancy a fork?
experience as a projection with a supposedly neutral perceptual experience. No experience is neutral. Secondly, we don’t just recognise objects, we recognise situations, as shown by our immediate responses to them. For example, seeing someone being mugged initiates a response – to help them, or leg it. We recognise the significance of events from a variety of perspectives, including a moral one. In this way, argues Hick, religious experience is a matter of recognising the religious significance of events or situations, for example having a sense of God in the vastness or beauty of the natural world. For Hick, this involves a change in how we are supposed to act, in the same way that seeing someone hanging from a cliff involves us trying to help them. Hick argues that religious experience disposes us to the ‘service of God’, by way of Jesus’ moral teaching. This response is not an optional extra – it is just as much part of experiencing human life and history as an encounter with God as using a fork to eat with is part of seeing it as a fork. However, further objections remain. While Hick is correct that all recognition involves applying concepts to experience, we don’t need to accept that all recognition is analogous to perceptual recognition. I can detect a fork because I use one of my 5 senses – my eyes detect the light from the fork. What is the sense through which we detect religious significance therefore? Hick doesn’t suggest we can give answers to these questions. In this way, then, we might argue that Hick’s analogy of religious and perceptual experience fails, and instead we have merely a metaphorical link. So we can’t defend the claim that religious experience is experiencing the world as an encounter with God by analogy with perception. Hick strikes back! However, Hick isn’t done quite yet. What he wants to emphasise with his analogy is the contrast between perceptual experience and beliefs that we form by argument or inference. I don’t argue or infer that I should eat with my fork, I just do. I don’t infer that I am looking at my computer screen, I just am. In the same way, Hick argues, the religious person doesn’t infer that God exists, but experiences life as an encounter with God. It is as immediate as a perception, not inferred like a theoretical belief. However, we can surely object by saying that through perception, we all experience the natural world, yet only some people experience the world to have religious significance. Furthermore, religious people don’t all agree over their beliefs. Surely if God was ‘there’ in the same way as the natural world, we would all experience Him in the same way, as our perceptual experiences are, broadly speaking, similar. Religious experience may feel immediate, but differences in religious experience suggest it may be inferred.
But is all perceptual experience similar? Where I merely see a bird, my girlfriend’s dad recognises a jackdaw. Where I see a plant, he sees Labernum, and so on. We don’t have the same perceptual experience – Paul isn’t inferring the species. Rather, once one has learned to recognise an object, one recognises it immediately, but first one must learn. So, Hick
argues, not everyone recognises events as an encounter with God. Labernum Furthermore, if God was completely unmistakeable, faith would be off the menu, as Kierkegaard has suggested.. So God gave us what Hick calls ‘cognitive freedom’ in being able to recognise or not recognise life as an encounter with Him. Once one has recognised or learned this perspective, or way of seeing, the experience is immediate. But does this mean Hick is right? Of course not. Surely the religious experience could be an illusion, in the same way that mad people believe they are being watched, or that aliens exist (maybe). Hick responds that religious faith does not seem like madness. Many religious people give no sign of psychological breakdown or an inability to function in the world. In fact, some religious people (like Hick himself) have a very high degree of psychological integration and maturity. So, he thinks, we have no good reason to think that experiencing the world religiously is irrational, and therefore religious belief is rational. Rational Belief A belief is rational when it can be supported by evidence and reasoned argument - from evidence to conclusion, or vice-versa. A rational belief doesn't have to be right - it just has to be rationally defensible according to public standards of rationality. Of course, what counts as evidence and what public rationality is when it's at home is a rather vexed question... Here's an example of a rational belief: Young children believe in Santa Claus for very good reasons. They don't believe that he's a figment of their imaginations, even if they have been made to believe in Santa Claus on the basis of brain-washing by commercialised fantasies of Christmas in the media, experience of tatty department store grottoes, and promises made and stories told by adults. Obviously, we all know Santa Claus doesn't exist (dry your eyes, those at the back), but the evidence to think so if you’re young and unable to resist is vast and strong. So it doesn’t have to be irrational to hold a false belief. It's just the belief that's untrue, not the rationality of the process that led to it. Of course, many rational beliefs are also true. They just don't have to be. Irrational Belief A belief is irrational when it can be described as a belief we have no evidence for or when we know it conflicts with other (true) beliefs that we hold or we know it to be false. Here’s an example of an irrational belief: believing that Joe is a deranged scientist who experiments on people's brains using machines made from recycled hoover parts and so on when really everyone can see that he is a well-adjusted chap – who just happens to have a mind-control ray in his pocket this morning. The RATS! THE RATS! They're COMING OUT OF MY EYE SOCKETS!! E:\PDFG_temp\pdfg-dharma_svc\18\0fd7-9091d9-c90ab5-2e4017-17d74e-962a94\InputFile.doc Last printed 18/04/2011 12:44 PM
So: is religious belief rational or irrational? Hick argues that for someone who sees the world in a religious way, it is rational for them to believe in God. Someone who doesn’t have this experience is unaffected by the argument. They do not need arguments, but different experiences, a diferent perspective on the world. But what about the different religious beliefs that people hold? Either, in time, someone’s experience of the world will make particular beliefs irrational, and only one, or no, religion will be justified, or perhaps they won’t. Perhaps there are just many ways of experiencing the world, and all are equally valid. The novel Enduring Love, by Ian McEwan, flirts with this idea. In the novel’s final chapter, the protagonist perceives a river in two different ways – from a scientific viewpoint, as atoms of hydrogen and oxygen, and from an emotional and physical one, “feeling the ooze between my toes, and breathing in the rich earth-andwater smell of a river”. Which is correct? Is water two atoms of hydrogen bonded with one atom of oxygen, “bound together by a mysterious powerful force”? Or is it somewhere wonderful to spend an afternoon? Or is it evidence of God’s design of the world? Maybe none, or all, of the above, and there are only different ways of seeing the world, or seeingas.
The religious hypothesis – how can we make sense of religious statements? Are religious statements meaningful or nonsense? The status of the religious ‘hypothesis’ A hypothesis is a proposal that needs to be tested (and confirmed or rejected) by experience. We can use experience to infer its truth or falsehood; its truth is not something that we can experience directly. The religious ‘hypothesis’ is essentially, “God exists”, or variations thereof. The question is: is this a hypothesis at all? When we test a scientific hypothesis, we look for experiences that will show that it is true or false. This is not really possible with the religious hypothesis, so we need to approach the question from a different angle. Perhaps religious claims are not claims about the world, are not hypotheses to compete with scientific hypotheses, but are something else entirely. Theories of meaning and the philosophy of language One of the key issues in the philosophy of language is Meaning. In the early part of last century philosophers turned their attention towards the study of language (this is known as the 'Linguistic Turn') and one of their key aims was to understand the concept of 'meaning'. They believed that we could resolve many of the problems of philosophy by working out whether the things philosophers talked about were meaningful. The theory is that once we have worked out what things are meaningful we can stop talking nonsense and stop getting muddled up. Philosophers have attempted to find a method of dividing up statements into those that are meaningful and those that are meaningless. In order to find the dividing line between sense and nonsense philosophers use a Theory of Meaning. This handout looks at three different theories of meaning and considers their implications for religious statements. The E:\PDFG_temp\pdfg-dharma_svc\18\0fd7-9091d9-c90ab5-2e4017-17d74e-962a94\InputFile.doc Last printed 18/04/2011 12:44 32 PM
main question we shall be seeking to answer is are religious statements meaningful? Before we examine the specific theories of meaning given by A.J. Ayer, Antony Flew and Ludwig Wittgenstein we should first distinguish between the two main types of Theories of Meaning. Cognitivist and non-cognitivist theories of meaning Some philosophers (most notably the Vienna Circle, the young Ludwig Wittgenstein and A.J. Ayer) have argued that sentences are only meaningful if they are connected in some way to the world. Such sentences describe the world either truly or falsely. For example 'The teacher of the class is a tall man with dark hair' is meaningful because it tries to tell us something about the world. [NB It is irrelevant for this theory of meaning whether a sentence is actually false - false sentences are still meaningful because they still 'paint a picture' of the world.] A theory that says that sentences are meaningful because they refer to the world (whether truly or falsely) is known as a Cognitivist Theory of Meaning.
The cat sat on the mat
However, many other philosophers have argued against this view. They believe that statements can be meaningful even though they do not refer to the world, and even though they cannot be shown to be true or false. St Aquinas may be seen as an early supporter of this view and we shall look at his theory later. In the Twentieth Century many philosophers have followed the example of the older Ludwig Wittgenstein (he changed his philosophy half way through his career) and supported a Non-cognitivist Theory of Meaning. There are many different non-cognitivist theories but they all emphasise the complexity of language, and many focus on the communities/context within which language use takes place.
The cat sat on the mat
I understand where
you're coming from man
Three theories of meaning: Verification, Falsification and Language Games We have looked in general at the philosophy of language and general theories of meaning but we should now look at some of the specific theories: A.J. Ayer and his Verification Principle, Antony Flew and Falsificationism (both cognitivists) and the later Wittgenstein (a non-cognitivist). Bear in mind that, as with many '-isms', these are labels that the philosophers themselves would not necessarily have used, and might even have rejected. The reason why we tend to label things is to make them easier to remember.
A.J. AYER & VERIFICATIONISM Ayer (1910-1989) was a British philosopher who was very much under the influence of the young Ludwig Wittgenstein and a group of Austrian philosophers known as the Vienna Circle. These philosophers (known as the Logical Positivists) were angered by the gibberish that many philosophers, particularly in the Nineteenth Century, had a tendency to spout. They argued that there were certain things that were beyond language and which could not be meaningfully expressed by words. Language, they said, was only meaningful if it kept itself to what was within human experience, if we go beyond the realms of experience then we venture into nonsense. Ayer was greatly affected by this idea and when he was in his mid-Twenties wrote a book called Language, Truth and Logic that popularised Logical Positivism in Britain and America. In this book he used the theory of the Vienna Circle and applied it to all aspects of philosophy. The theory of meaning that is now associated with Ayer is the Verification Principle and it is a kind of test that sentences must pass if they are genuinely meaningful. The Verification Principle states that: "A sentence is meaningful if and only if either (a) it is a tautology i.e. true by definition or (b) it can be proved to be true/false i.e. it is verifiable." What the principle is saying is that in order to say something meaningful we must know what makes our statement true. Ayer believed that if a statement wasn't a tautology, and there was no empirical way of discovering its truth, then it was meaningless. He clearly put an awful lot of faith in science and in our observations of the world. He used the Verification Principle as a tool to sort out the good from the bad, the philosophical sheep from the metaphysical goats. The aim of Ayer and the Logical Positivists was a noble one - to rid Philosophy of nonsense. This goes back to Hume's Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding where he urges us to throw metaphysical rubbish on a fire. The feeling amongst these philosophers was that many philosophical discussions were literally meaningless, and that E:\PDFG_temp\pdfg-dharma_svc\18\0fd7-9091d9-c90ab5-2e4017-17d74e-962a94\InputFile.doc Last printed 18/04/2011 12:44 PM
it would be fruitful if philosophers could sort out genuine philosophical problems from ones that were a waste of time. Exercise: Use Ayer's Verification principle on the following statements Tick M if it is meaningful and N if it is nonsense. 1. Water boils at 100°C on the surface of the earth. M N 2. There is life after death. M N 3. It is always wrong to kill innocent persons without good reason. M N 4. The cat has just got off the frisbee. M N 5. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Light. M N 6. Your love is a red, red rose. M N 7. The sunset over Victoria Falls is beautiful. M N 8. One day computers will be conscious agents and worthy of moral rights. M N 9. The obvious design and purpose of the Natural World can only have God as its cause. M N The Verification Principle is also useful in identifying statements that look as if they are meaningful but are in actual fact word games, grammatical errors or simply incoherent. John Hick (in Philosophy of Religion) gives two excellent examples of sentences that appear at first sight to be meaningful sentences about the world but are actually nonsense because they cannot be verified. 'The Universe doubled in size last night' 'There is an invisible, intangible, odourless, tasteless and silent rabbit in this room.' According to Ayer's Verification Principle both these sentences would be meaningless because neither of them can be verified. They appear to be making claims about the world, but when you look at them closely you see that whether they were true or false (i.e. whether the world was the way they said it was) makes no difference to our experience. They are not factually significant, and meaning, for Ayer, is tied closely to factual significance. One of the most significant consequences of Ayer's theory is that it makes all claims about religion and about God meaningless. This is because for Ayer every religious claim ultimately is about something transcendental, whether it is God or Nirvana (not the band, morons…) or Heaven, and transcendental objects are by definition beyond experience. Like the two propositions above, statements like 'God loves the World' or 'God is the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost' appear to be telling us something about someone. But when we look more closely we see that we cannot check their truth religious statements are not factually significant and according to the Verification Principle are therefore meaningless. E:\PDFG_temp\pdfg-dharma_svc\18\0fd7-9091d9-c90ab5-2e4017-17d74e-962a94\InputFile.doc Last printed 18/04/2011 12:44 35 PM
A brief aside: At a party in 1987, Ayer confronted Mike Tyson harassing the (then little-known) model Naomi Campbell. When Ayer demanded that Tyson desist, the boxer said: "Do you know who the fuck I am? I'm the heavyweight champion of the world," to which Ayer replied: "And I am the former Wykeham Professor of Logic. We are both pre-eminent in our field. I suggest that we talk about this like rational men". Ayer and Tyson then began to talk, while Naomi Campbell slipped out.
Criticisms of Ayer Despite its popularity the Verification Principle is actually seriously flawed and we shall now look at some of the criticisms that have been levelled against it. The first criticism is that the Verification Principle does not satisfy its own criteria. Have a look at the statement in italics in paragraph 3 above - it is neither true by definition (that isn't how we ordinarily define meaning); nor is it empirically verifiable. Therefore the Verification Principle is itself meaningless - in which case we can ignore it! Ayer did attempt to reformulate it, but most philosophers have now accepted that it is not a workable theory. The second criticism is that it implies that much of what humans speak and write about is meaningless: art, beauty, metaphors, poetry, our inner sensations, spiritual and religious talk. It makes all ethical judgements a matter of personal feeling (the 'Boo/Hooray' theory known as Emotivism) and it makes most philosophy meaningless. But many argue Ayer is wrong to regard many of the rich and varied parts of language as meaningless. E.g. Shakespeare’s use of metaphor is replete with meaning. A third criticism is that the Verification Principle makes much of science meaningless. This is because scientific theories rely heavily on theoretical terms i.e. concepts that refer to things that cannot be observed (and might not even exist), for example talk about quantum particles such as quarks, or even protons. Ayer looked up to science as the peak of human endeavour and as a subject that was meaningful. He gets round this problem by differentiating between a strong and a weak version of verification, with scientific theories fulfilling the weaker conditions: • •
The Strong version states that a statement is meaningful if we can verify it by our own observation - and therefore establish its truth/falsity for certain. The Weak version states that a statement is meaningful if there are some observations that can establish the probable truth of the statement.
One final criticism comes from the Christian philosopher John Hick who argued in the 1960s that religious statements were factually significant and were meaningful because they could be verified. What he meant was that it was possible that rational doubt would be removed after we died and that we would ascend to Heaven. If this is a possibility then it fulfils Ayer's weak version of verifiability and therefore is meaningful. Hick calls this verification that happens in heaven eschatological verification and he uses the parable of the Celestial City to make this clear: Two men are travelling together along a road. One of them believes that it leads to the Celestial City, the other that it leads nowhere; but since this is the only road there is, both must travel it… During the journey they meet with moments of refreshment and delight, and with moments of hardship and danger. All the time E:\PDFG_temp\pdfg-dharma_svc\18\0fd7-9091d9-c90ab5-2e4017-17d74e-962a94\InputFile.doc Last printed 18/04/2011 12:44 PM
one of them thinks of his journey as a pilgrimage to the Celestial City. He interprets the pleasant parts of the journey as encouragements and the obstacles as trials of his purpose…The other, however, believes none of this…Since he has no choice in the matter he enjoys the good and endures the bad.
Hick’s point is that although they experience the same events they interpret them very differently, but ultimately the believer could be proved right at the journey’s end. FLEW & FALSIFICATIONISM In his famous 1955 lecture Theology and Falsification, Antony Flew outlined his argument attacking the meaning of religious propositions. Like Ayer, Flew believed that propositions were only meaningful if they are factually significant - in other words if they made a genuine claim about the world. However, unlike Ayer he argued that it was not the possibility of verification, but the possibility of falsification that showed that a statement was meaningful. We can show these differences as follows: AYER: meaning ⇒ factual significance ⇒ verifiability FLEW: meaning ⇒ factual significance ⇒ falsifiability Flew argues that religious statements are not falsifiable (they cannot be proved wrong) and therefore they tell us nothing about the world and therefore they are meaningless. He uses a parable to help demonstrate this, although he changes it around a little. This is John Wisdom’s gardener parable (written in 1944), written to show the similarity of belief between the believer and the atheist: “Two people return to their long-neglected garden and find among the weeds a few of the old plants surprisingly vigorous. One says to the other “It must be that a gardener has been coming and doing something about these plants.” Upon inquiry they find that no neighbour has ever seen anyone at work in their garden. The first man says to the other “He must have worked while people slept.” The other says, “No, someone would have heard him and besides, anybody who cared about the plants would have kept down these weeds.” The first man says, “Look at the way these are arranged. There is purpose and a feeling for beauty here. I believe that someone comes, someone invisible to mortal eyes. I believe that the more carefully we look the more we shall find confirmation of this.” They examine the garden ever so carefully and sometimes they come on new things suggesting that a gardener comes and sometimes they come on new things suggesting the contrary and even that a malicious person has been at work… Each learns all the other learns about this and about the garden. Consequently, when after all this, one says “I still believe a gardener comes” while the other says “I don’t” their different beliefs now reflect no difference as to what they have found in the garden, no difference as to what they would find in the garden if they looked further and no difference about how fast untended gardens fall into disorder. At this stage, in this context, the gardener hypothesis has ceased to be experimental, the difference between one who accepts and one who rejects it is not now a matter of the one expecting something the other does not expect. What is the difference between them? The one says, “A gardener comes unseen and unheard. He is manifested only in his works with which we are all familiar,” the other says “There is no gardener” and with this difference in what they say about the gardener goes a difference in how they feel towards the garden, in spite of the fact that neither expects anything of it which the other does not expect.” E:\PDFG_temp\pdfg-dharma_svc\18\0fd7-9091d9-c90ab5-2e4017-17d74e-962a94\InputFile.doc Last printed 18/04/2011 12:44 PM
Exercise 1. What does the garden represent? 2. What do the flowers represent? 3. What do the weeds represent? 4. What are the differences between the two explorers?
Flew jazzes up Wisdom's Invisible Gardener Parable with a few electric fences and sniffer-dogs, but essentially it is the same parable. Except for the key difference that in Wisdom's version both the atheist and the believer are shown in a sympathetic light, but in Flew's version the believer is shown as having a ridiculous and stubborn belief. I suspect that the atheist is in the same position as the believer in the world. Let us now look at Flew's argument to show that unfalsifiable statements are also meaningless. Let's look at an example that's close to my heart. Take my assertion that 'Jennifer Connelly loves me'. Now that is true, it’s a fact. My friends tell me that she doesn’t know me, that she’s never spoken to me or even seen me, and they point out that she’s in love with someone else (Paul Bettany, the Hugh Grant-a-like from Wimbledon. Interestingly, my girlfriend is in love with him. Perhaps we should see if we could interest them in some swinging or something. Anyway, that’s probably inappropriate for this handout, and perhaps I should get back to the topic at hand. Ahem…). But I know that this is only because she’s shy and impressionable. The very fact that she hasn’t called me proves that she loves me, after all there’s plenty of other men she’s told where to go, but not me. Her agent called recently, and told me to stop sending the flowers and the threatening notes (love poetry actually). He told me "Ms Connelly is not interested", but of course that’s his job. Finally Ms. Connelly herself called to tell me where to go, but I could see she was playing hard-to-get and that this was the most natural thing to do. She eventually asked me ‘is there anything I can do that will show you I don’t love you’ and I said “No Jennifer, there isn’t, because our love is forever.” Antony Flew would argue that my claim that ‘Jennifer Connelly loves me’ is unfalsifiable and therefore meaningless. Flew's suggestion is that a statement is only meaningful if it is about the world (i.e. factually significant). But it is only about the world if the person making the statement can imagine being wrong - in other words if there is a possibility of it being falsified. This is because someone who refuses to give up their belief, no matter what is discovered about the world is not really talking about the world at all. Very often such people, when they are presented with evidence showing that their statement is false, add to and qualify their statement so that it continues to be true. Flew calls this death by a thousand qualifications. The statement is unfalsifiable and therefore it is not factually significant and therefore is not meaningful. Mr and Mrs C-B, in a parallel universe… E:\PDFG_temp\pdfg-dharma_svc\18\0fd7-9091d9-c90ab5-2e4017-17d74e-962a94\InputFile.doc Last printed 18/04/2011 12:44 PM
Armed with this conclusion Flew then goes on to apply it to religious statements. For many believers there are certain statements that they will always believe to be true, no matter what. For example a believer tells Flew that "God loves us like a father loves his children". When Flew points out that no father would let his children suffer what humans suffer, the believer qualifies their statement by saying 'God's love is a mysterious love'. Flew argues that whatever suffering occurs to humans the believer will never give up their belief in God's love - they will continue to qualify it. Therefore religious statements are unfalsifiable, therefore religious statements are not factually significant, therefore religious statements are meaningless. Finally Flew challenges the believer to admit either that their beliefs have already been falsified (through the problem of evil) or that their beliefs are unfalsifiable. Criticisms of Flew There are many examples of statements that we would all consider to be meaningful, but which cannot be falsified. For example how would you falsify the statement that 'all bananas ripen'? You would have to find a banana that stayed green forever - if after a thousand years the banana had not ripened we could still not conclude that it would never ripen. A similar counter-example is the statement 'all men are mortal'. What would you have to do in order to falsify that? It's not just questions about the future that become meaningless, but also about the past. Richard Swinburne gives as an example the statement 'There was once a time, long before humans or animals existed, when the whole world was covered with water'. Once again we cannot falsify this claim but it seems to make sense - we understand it. Furthermore, as with Ayer's theory, many other types of statements (spiritual statements, statements about beauty or morality) also fall outside Flew's account of meaning - they are meaningless because they cannot be falsified. We should be suspicious of a theory of meaning which strays too far from the common consensus. Further criticisms come from the responses given to Flew's lecture Theology and Falsification by R.M. Hare and Basil Mitchell. Let us look at each in turn, firstly Hare. Hare gives his own parable to help us to understand the strange nature of religious statements, the parable of the Paranoid Student: A certain lunatic is convinced that all dons want to murder him. His friends introduce him to all the mildest and most respectable dons that they can find, and after each of them has retired, they say, ‘You see, he doesn’t really want to murder you; he spoke to you in a most cordial manner; surely you are convinced now?’ But the lunatic replies ‘Yes, but that was only his diabolical cunning; he’s really plotting against me the whole time, like the rest of them; I know it I tell you.’ However many kindly dons are produced, the reaction is still the same.
Like the person who believes in the invisible gardener, the paranoid student cannot imagine being wrong – his statement ‘they are out to get me’ is unfalsifiable. However, instead of concluding that the student is talking nonsense, Hare argues that we are all in some ways like the student: we all have thoughts about the world or principles on which we base our actions that we will never give up. These thoughts and principles often form the very basis for all our other beliefs, and they are both unverifiable and unfalsifiable. Hare made up the word ‘Blik’ to refer to these fundamental thoughts and principles. When believers say that ‘God exists’ they are expressing a blik – this is how they see and interpret their whole lives. Hare is denying a cognitive account of meaning and suggesting E:\PDFG_temp\pdfg-dharma_svc\18\0fd7-9091d9-c90ab5-2e4017-17d74e-962a94\InputFile.doc Last printed 18/04/2011 12:44 PM
a non-cognitive theory of meaning (statements do not have to be true or false in order to be meaningful) Hare’s point is that Flew is wrong to think that all our meaningful beliefs are falsifiable, they simply aren’t. For example, many people believe that ‘everything has a cause’. When someone points to an event that apparently doesn’t have a cause, instead of giving up the belief they will say ‘yes there is a cause, but we just haven’t discovered it yet.’ Hare thinks that this is perfectly meaningful, even though it is unfalsifiable. However, there are problems with Hare’s response to Flew. The concept of a ‘blik’ is too vague and could refer to many different mental states (paranoias, phobias, etc). Moreover, Hare’s theory verges on the anti-realist (see Wittgenstein below) and believers are unhappy with this. Basil Mitchell also criticises Flew, but from a different angle to Hare. He disagrees with the view that religious beliefs are unfalsifiable and he tells the parable of the Resistance leader to make his point. During a war your country has been occupied by the enemy and only the resistance movement is fighting to overthrow them. One night you meet a man claiming to be the Resistance Leader, and he convinces you to put your trust in him and the movement. Over the months you sometimes see the man act for the resistance, but sometimes you also see him act against the movement. This troubles you, perhaps he is a traitor, but your trust in him eventually overcomes your worry and you continue to believe in him. Your belief that ‘the stranger is on our side’ is one that you don’t give up, even though you see many things that suggest you are wrong. Mitchell argues that this belief in the Resistance leader is meaningful, even though you refuse to give it up. He does not think that it is a ‘blik’, however, because there are many occasions in which you do doubt your own belief. This doubt shows that you can imagine being wrong and it reflects the doubts that Religious believers sometimes have when they encounter great suffering in their lives. These ‘trials of faith’ show that Flew is wrong to think that believers simply shrug off evidence that goes against their beliefs. Mitchell also thinks, like John Hick, that one day (in the parable when the war is over, or for the religious believer after we die) the truth will be revealed. So for Mitchell a belief that ‘God exists’ is both falsifiable (there are trials of faith) and verifiable (after we die) – therefore religious statements are meaningful. WITTGENSTEIN & LANGUAGE GAMES The final philosopher we shall look at in this handout is one of the most significant philosophers ever – Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951). As you have probably already gathered, Wittgenstein put forward two distinct theories of meaning, one when he was young and the other towards the end of his career. Wittgenstein in both his early and later phases believed that the heart of philosophy lay in the study of language and that by E:\PDFG_temp\pdfg-dharma_svc\18\0fd7-9091d9-c90ab5-2e4017-17d74e-962a94\InputFile.doc Last printed 18/04/2011 12:44 PM
studying language we could clear up many of the disputes of philosophers. The early Wittgenstein argued that language ‘pictured’ the world and that when we tried to go beyond talking about the world we strayed into the realm of nonsense. We have seen that this picture theory of meaning was influential to the Vienna Circle and A.J.Ayer. However, the later Wittgenstein (the last twenty years of his life) was one of the foremost critics of this simplistic view of language. He attacked the logical positivists and his own early work, arguing that it utterly failed in capturing the complexity of language. For Ayer & co. the only meaningful statements were ones about science or about the world we see, or ones that were true by definition. But Wittgenstein realised that our language was so much richer and more varied and this, and it was a ridiculous mistake for philosophers to rule out the rest of language because it wasn’t true or false. For example, when we talk about beauty, or love, or poetry, or religion, or art, or the meaning of life we seem to understand one another – yet Ayer tells us that we are talking nonsense. So Wittgenstein searched for a new way of understanding meaning. The later Wittgenstein rejected the idea that there was a mysterious ‘meaning’ that all words have – he said that there is no such thing as the (single) meaning of a word. Instead words are vague and their meanings vary enormously according to the social context in which they are used. What are the different contexts in which the word ‘down’ is used? Rambling; upholstery; giving directions; dog training; scientific (down quarks); emotional; dancing; drinking etc. Wittgenstein argued that if we understand how a word is used in a particular context, and can use it ourselves, then that is all that there is to knowing the ‘meaning’ of the word. If we wish to know the meaning of a word look for how it is used, said Wittgenstein, and this is sometimes summarised as his theory of meaning ‘meaning is use’. However, as we have seen, a word can be used in many different ways, in many different circumstances and thus have many different meanings. The different social contexts that language has Wittgenstein famously called Language Games. He did not mean ‘game’ in a flippant or competitive sense, but in the sense that they were governed by certain rules. For example, the rules governing the use of the word ‘experience’ in science are very different from those governing this word in a religious context. But Wittgenstein argued that it was a mistake to think that one use of the word was better than or more fundamental than another. Remember what Ayer and Flew claimed: that for a statement to be meaningful it must refer to the world. But Wittgenstein is now suggesting that statements are meaningful so long as they are understood by other language-users in a specific context. He therefore thinks (unlike Ayer) that morality, art, poetry etc. are all meaningful, they are all language games. Religious statements, and religious concepts also form part of a Religious Language Game, and are therefore meaningful to those who are a part of that language game – i.e. to believers. So to understand religious statements we need to be a part of the religious language game (as Wittgenstein said, we need to be immersed in the religious Form of Life). If we are not immersed in that particularly way of living, if we don’t share those beliefs, or use those concepts in a familiar and regular way then we cannot understand religious statements. This is the problem with philosophers – that they think that there is one principle of meaning (factual significance) and they then think that all statements that fail that principle E:\PDFG_temp\pdfg-dharma_svc\18\0fd7-9091d9-c90ab5-2e4017-17d74e-962a94\InputFile.doc Last printed 18/04/2011 12:44 PM
are nonsensical statements. But that is ridiculous. Wittgenstein says that it is a blunder, a mistake, to think of religious statements in the way that we think of scientific statements. Followers of Wittgenstein, such as D.Z. Phillips, have taken his point and thought about it a little more deeply. Wittgenstein is accusing Ayer &co. of thinking of religion as a kind of weak science – and they are fools for thinking this. Science and Religion are two different language games – they are not in competition between one another, and neither can help solve the problems of the other. When a believer says ‘The Creator exists’ they do not use ‘exists’ in the same way as when they say ‘duck-billed platypuses exist’. For when a believer is talking about The Creator they are also being reverential, they are expressing their faith, their understanding of the purpose of life. It is so much richer than simply saying ‘chairs exist’ – it means something else. Atheists just don’t get it, and they can’t get it unless they become a part of the religious way of life. We can conclude that for followers of Wittgenstein, religious statements are meaningful. However, there are problems with Wittgenstein’s theory. The most fundamental problem arises because the meaning of a statement no longer has to be connected to the world. So there can be a group of language users who can talk meaningfully about goblins, elves and gremlins so long as they have a consistent set of rules governing their concepts. Wittgenstein’s theory leads to Anti-realism. We can talk meaningfully about ‘God’ or ‘Christ’ without their being anything out there in the world who is God or Christ. In fact, many believers would disagree with Wittgenstein’s point that Religion is different from science. They would argue that when they talk about the Creator they are literally talking about someone who created the world. For Believers the Creator is real, and not simply another piece in a complicated language game.
Religious belief as attitudinal or non-inferential – Plantinga and Basic Belief Back to Basics
"It is time to get back to basics: to self-discipline and respect for the law, to consideration for others, to accepting responsibility for yourself and your family, and not shuffling it off on the state" - 1993
Yeah, thanks, John. Shame this pronouncement was emitted at about the same time that fellow Tory MP Edwina Currie was getting some tender lovin’ from you behind your wife’s back. However, philosophically speaking – the question is: Do you have any basic beliefs?
where ‘belief’ is defined as ‘a mental occurence or state in the cognitive life of the believer that expresses an attitude, value or proposition about some fact or feature in the actual life of the believer’. and ‘basic’: ‘adj 1: pertaining to or constituting a base or basis; 2: reduced to the simplest and most significant form possible without loss of generality; "a basic story line" 3. of primary importance; "basic truths" [syn: basal, primary] 4: serving as a base or starting point; "a basic course in Russian"; "basic training for raw recruits"; "a set of basic tools"; "an introductory art course" [syn: introductory]’
Attitudinal or non-inferential Faith - Plantinga
To understand what attitudinal faith is, it is first necessary to make a distinction between ‘Belief that…’ and ‘Belief in…’. ‘Believing that…’ entails believing certain propositions to be true e.g. I happen to believe Gordon Brown is a piece of cheese. What this means is: I happen to believe that the proposition ‘Gordon Brown is a piece of cheese’ is true. Most of the time when philosophers talk about belief they are talking about cognitive beliefs i.e. beliefs about propositions, facts etc. On this view religious beliefs are simply beliefs about certain special kinds of propositions, i.e. propositions about ‘supernatural facts’ – and it is easy to make these kinds of propositions seem odd. But there is another kind of belief, a non-cognitive kind. This is ‘Believing in…’ and it is a matter of our attitude to the world. It is based upon emotion, action, behaviour (what Wittgenstein called a Form of Life). For instance, we often talk about believing things for which we have little evidence (e.g. I believe in UFOs / ghosts / ley-lines). Some examples of ‘belief in’ can be reduced to a ‘belief that’, because it is implied that what you are believing in is that these strange phenomena exist: I believe that UFOs / ghosts / ley-lines exist. But we also can say that we believe in a person (e.g. I believe in Fabio Capello) and this kind of belief is not so easily reducible, since it includes the idea of an emotional commitment, or faith as trust. R.M.Hare: ‘bliks’ and world-views For believers such as Kierkegaard the existence of God is a given that does not admit of proof, and is not related to science or to other fields of knowledge. It is part of our way of seeing the world and within which our other beliefs have meaning and a place. It is what R.M. Hare calls a blik, or a pervasive, probably unconscious attitude toward the world that is the basis for any inferences or explanations of a seemingly factual nature. Hare distinguishes between insane and sane bliks. It is important, he says, to recognize that everyone has a blik. It is deep-seated in the personality structure; it may reflect a rigid selfsystem developed to protect a person; or it may provide a kind of security which is threatened by the challenge and risk of any kind of change. Furthermore, a blik may be irrational, psychotic, and unreachable by normal communication - and certainly unresponsive to logic. A blik is not an assertion, not a concept, not a system of thought. It is what underlies the possibility of any kind of assertion about facts and their meanings. Hare writes: "Differences between bliks about the world cannot be settled by observation of what happens to the world. . . It is by our bliks that we decide what is and what is not an explanation." Furthermore, because bliks are a basis for self-involving language, we care very deeply about our religious assertions. It becomes very important to have the right blik. E:\PDFG_temp\pdfg-dharma_svc\18\0fd7-9091d9-c90ab5-2e4017-17d74e-962a94\InputFile.doc Last printed 18/04/2011 12:44 PM
Cognitive belief is… Intellectual (at least in part) Lacks evidence Propositional (belief that…) An act of will Certain (in the way science is)
Non-cognitive belief is… Emotional (trust and commitment are key) Is not based on evidence Non-propositional (belief in…) An uncompelled response to the world Certain (because it is a given)
Alvin Plantinga and Reformational Epistemology The Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century marked a switch towards an emphasis on the personal relationship with God. Faith, say Protestants, is a way of experiencing the world, rather than a way of describing it., and Protestant theologians emphasise the emotional, committed side of belief. Alvin Plantinga sees our relationship with God as being of this kind. Plantinga and some other modern philosophers of religion think that foundationalism relies on the idea of non-inferential or basic beliefs, ones that found ones knowledge and which are not derived from other beliefs. They’re basic. Foundational beliefs are self-evident and incorrigible – examples might include simple truths of arithmetic or the nature of one’s own immediate experience. The centre of foundationalism is the belief that A person is rational in accepting a given belief only if that belief is self-evident or incorrigible or is derived from self-evident or incorrigible beliefs using acceptable methods of logical inference. Plantinga offers the novel idea that (besides truths of arithmetic and immediate experience) belief in the existence of God should also be considered as a basic belief. In other words, it is part of the non-inferential foundation of our worldview. Plantinga suggests that most believers will ultimately conclude that their belief in God is not justified inferentially from other beliefs – but since they have a belief in God, its only other origin must be that it is a belief basic to our experience. Our feeling of religious experience and being in the presence of God is just another sense, and as valid foundationally. Plantinga still thinks that issues in the philosophy of religion need to be strongly and rationally engaged with, especially if they are potential problems for religious belief (such as the problem of evil), since these could override the basic sense of God’s existence. By the same token, arguments for the existence of God are still interesting to Plantinga because they can act as confirmations of what he already knows non-inferentially. Some difficulties with Plantinga, Alston • That you have a properly basic belief does not mean that your basic belief is right. Think back to the work you did on incorrigibility we did when thinking about basic epistemology. Incorrigible data can in fact be corrected…remember smelling a smell and thinking the smell was rosemary when actually it was thyme? Yes, you’re having a sensory event – that much is basic – but what the sensory event is of is a more open question. • Lots of perfectly intelligent people don’t have the sense or continuing experience of God’s constant presence. For them it isn’t basic or non-inferential. Is the philosopher of religion right to argue for the existence of properly basic beliefs or experiences of God when others simply don’t have these? Why should she be allowed to abandon the idea that clear cases of a phenomenon occurring should be agreed by all rational people for the phenomenon to be real? • Why can’t anyone else who likes specify any belief they hold to be ‘properly basic’ and E:\PDFG_temp\pdfg-dharma_svc\18\0fd7-9091d9-c90ab5-2e4017-17d74e-962a94\InputFile.doc Last printed 18/04/2011 12:44 PM
thus make the holding of that belief immune to rational criticism? This is sometimes known as the ‘Great Pumpkin Objection’ after Linus in ‘Peanuts’ who believes that the Great Pumpkin visits all those who believe in him and wait appropriately in the local vegetable patch. Making basic beliefs this easy to obtain may mean that people adopt very odd basic ones…like the Moonies, for example…Plantinga’s reply here is that there may indeed be different views of what counts as basic belief because of the prior baggage that philosophers bring with them – and there’s nothing really to be done about this relativism. We have to abandon our idea of ‘neutral rationality’, that’s all. So the holding of religious belief as basic seems to link back to the idea that it is possible to have religious experience of the non-miraculous kind (seeing a sunset and so on) and take this experience to be adequate justification in itself of faith in deity. Is there a circular argument here? A philosopher who thinks that there can be experiential awareness of God that provides epistemic justification for certain beliefs about God is William Alston. He thinks that one does not need to have independent reason that God exists before such experiences can be trustworthy (he certainly subscribes to the Principle of Charity as far as religious experience is concerned!) What he calls doxastic practices – socially established patterns of belief formation – should be accepted as reliable until we have actual evidence that they are unreliable. Others think that Alston should not be allowed to get away with the claim that religious experiences are in some way perceptual – for a start, perceptual experience is a good deal more reliable than religious experience because there is much broader agreement about its nature. There is vast disagreement about the content of religious experience across all of the world’s faiths…funny how one’s religious experiences are strongly steered by one’s cultural background.