Two Arguments Against GodJuly 27, 2014 Time: 20:06
If God is perfect, why would He create anything else? How would we know whether God is lying to us for our own good?
Two Arguments Against God
Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, I was cruising around the blogosphere and I noticed a few saying that there are two arguments against God that are being touted as the latest and greatest in the case against God. Let's see if we can stump you with these and get your thoughts. They are:
1. The Problem of Non-God Objects
2. The Problem of Divine Lies
Let me briefly sketch these out. Our listeners are going to hear terms like “GodWorld” and “ontological perfection.” If you are not familiar with these, hang with us and, Bill, you can flesh these terms out as we go today.
Here is the first one. Non-God Objects goes like this:
1. If the Christian God exists, then GodWorld is the unique best possible world.
2. If GodWorld is the unique best possible world, then the Christian God would maintain GodWorld.
3. GodWorld is false because the Universe (or any non-God object) exists.
4. Therefore, the Christian God, as so defined, does not exist.
Dr. Craig: Now, if we are to understand this argument, we need to understand the terms as the author defines them because they are rather ambiguous. When he says that if the Christian God exists then GodWorld is the unique best possible world, what does he mean by GodWorld? He explains that “the term GodWorld refers to that possible world where God never actually creates anything.” So GodWorld isn't itself an object. It is not a thing. He is just saying that if the Christian God exists then the unique best possible world will be a world in which God alone exists and never creates anything. It will be a world in which there is only God and nothing else.
Premise (2) says that if the unique best possible world is that world in which God alone exists then the Christian God would maintain GodWorld. Now, again, we need to understand what the author means here or we will be led into false impressions. I don't think he means by “maintain” “sustain in existence.” God doesn't sustain possible worlds in existence. Rather, I think what he means is that if there is a unique best possible world in which God alone exists then God would not create anything. He would simply remain alone in such a world. Then he wants to say but in fact that world isn't actual because there is a universe. God has created things according to Christian theism, and so this is to be an argument against Christian theism. The idea is that on Christian theism the best possible world will be a world in which God alone exists and that therefore God would not create anything and therefore since things are created the Christian God must not exist.
Kevin Harris: One guy who uses this particular argument also uses in support of it that God would not need to create anything else. He would be totally content within himself.
Dr. Craig: I think we can agree certainly with that. On the Christian view, God would not need to create. As he says here, this is presupposing that creation is “a free act and not born out of necessity.” So we can agree with that, that the Christian God is under no obligation to create any objects distinct from himself.
Kevin Harris: He is certainly not needy.
Dr. Craig: Right.
Kevin Harris: He goes on, “Because the Christian God is to be understood as a maximally great being he must be absolutely and essentially perfect both morally and ontologically.”
Dr. Craig: Right. We would agree with that as well. God is a maximally great being.
Kevin Harris: “So the question being pressed by the argument is, If the Christian God were to exist, could he possibly have motivating reasons to intentionally create a universe?”
Dr. Craig: Now here he seems to be raising a very different argument. The other argument I thought was supposed to be that a world in which God alone exists because of God's maximally great value would be uniquely the best possible world. So given that God is the maximally great being, that is the world that must exist. But now here he raises a very different issue, namely, could God have motivating reasons to create a universe? That is a very different argument. I think here what we would say is that God's decision to create a universe is an act of God's grace. It is something that is undertaken freely by God simply as an expression of his goodness; not something that he had to do. He did it for the benefit of created beings, that they could enjoy the incommensurable good of fellowship with God, a source of infinite value and love. So creation like salvation is purely an act of grace. So I think this extraneous argument really is easily dealt with. There is no reason to think that if the Christian God existed he couldn't have motivations to create a universe of free creatures who could come to know him.
Kevin Harris: Bill, would you say anything about the concept of perfection here? Is that another way of saying maximally great?
Dr. Craig: Yes, those are usually taken to be synonyms. The assumption of the argument here is that if God is maximally great then there is a best possible world and moreover that world is unique – that there are not other worlds of comparable value. I don't think that he says anything to justify those assumptions. Why couldn't the value of possible worlds simply go on to infinity without end? That there is no best possible world? In fact, I would say probably the majority of theists would be skeptical of the idea that there is a best possible world. Moreover, they would be doubly skeptical of the idea that this is unique – that there is only one world that is at that maximal range of level. Now, you might say, “But if God is maximally great and he alone exists then any other world that God creates couldn't be better in value.” But that doesn't imply that therefore creation is impossible. Infinity plus any finite number is still infinity. If you take infinity plus one, what is the answer? Well, infinity plus one is infinity. Infinity plus two is infinity. Infinity plus three is infinity. So if God, in virtue of his own existence, is already infinitely good, if that world has infinite value, a world in which God alone exists, any finite goods that God creates don't increase the value of that world any more than adding any finite number to infinity increases infinity. But that isn't to say that therefore these goods are illusory or that God couldn't create them. I don't see any reason to think that in virtue of God's maximal greatness that it is impossible for God to create finite goods which don't increase the overall value of that world but which are nevertheless real goods.
Kevin Harris: This argument and those who use it would seem to recognize that greatest being theology is a good formidable thing – greatest of all conceivable beings.
Dr. Craig: Yes. I would hope that they do. I do think that this is the correct concept of God. We should construe God's biblical attributes in such a way as to magnify the greatness of God. So when the Bible says God is all-mighty, we ought to construe that in the greatest coherent sense. If he is omniscient, we ought to construe that to be the greatest propositional knowledge that he could have. Similarly for the other attributes of God. God, I think, is a maximally great being. But the assumption that underlies this argument is that a world in which a maximally great being exists cannot have other finite goods in addition to that infinite good that is constituted by the maximally great being. Nothing is said to justify that assumption in this blog at least.
Kevin Harris: Why do some theologians dispute best of all possible worlds or unique best of all possible worlds?
Dr. Craig: What they are thinking of there is that we could always imagine worlds in which there were more goods created. If you think that adding finite goods increases the value of a world then why can't this just go on ad infinitum so that there is no ceiling that you reach where it is impossible to add any more. Then if you do have levels of goodness of various worlds, why couldn't there by many worlds that are at the same level? So at level 1 there is a whole array of worlds. At level 2 there is a whole array of worlds that are better than those in 1. At level 3 there is a whole array of worlds that are better than those at 2 and 1. And so on. So there is no reason to think that it is unique. He says very clearly that this argument takes it for granted that God's creation of any object distinct from God himself is a free act and not out of necessity. So in that sense that is an orthodox conception of creation. Creation is a free act of God and the assumption of the argument is that if God creates any good distinct from himself that that would somehow increase the overall value of the world and that cannot be done because God is already of infinite value. But if God is already of infinite value, that doesn't imply he can't create goods that are distinct from himself. It would just mean that the addition of those goods don't increase the overall value of the world because it is already infinitely valuable.
Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, does any of this relate in any way to your work on abstract objects?
Dr. Craig: Only in the sense that possible worlds would be an example of an abstract object, if such things exist. For that reason, I don't regard possible worlds as things that really exist. I think they are just a heuristic device – a useful way of thinking about modality, that is possibility and necessity. They are like diagrams or graphs in mathematics. They don't actually describe any independent existing reality. They are just a convenient way of portraying something that helps us to grasp the connections between things and to understand notions more clearly than if we didn't have these devices.
Kevin Harris: Let's go to the second argument: The Problem of Divine Lies.
Skeptical theism is a response to the [Problem of Evil] where it is proposed that just because we can't think of a justification for evil or suffering that does not mean that a justification does not exist. Typically stated, man cannot fully understand the ways of God. . . . [It is] the idea that not only is it possible that God causes evil or suffering for a greater good we cannot see, he also could lie to us for the same reason.
Dr. Craig: Now that is just a mischaracterization of what so-called skeptical theism holds to. I really dislike the name “skeptical theism.” I think it is very misleading. But the idea basically is this. It is a very intuitive one. Given our cognitive limitations, our confinement to a brief interval of time and space, there is simply no reason to think that God's reasons for permitting various instances of evil or suffering in the world should be obvious to us. As I say, that seems to me to be just very obvious. God's morally sufficient reasons for permitting some instance of evil might not emerge until centuries from now, maybe in another country. Every event in history that occurs sends a ripple effect through history such that God's morally sufficient reasons for permitting the occurrence of some event may not appear within our lifetime or frame of reference. So I think that the term “skeptical theism” is simply a convenient handle for the very obvious fact that, due to our cognitive limitations, we cannot be confident that just because we don't see why God has permitted some instance of suffering that there is no sufficient reason for that suffering to have occurred.
Kevin Harris: So skeptical theism is not a broad description of a person who is a theist who is skeptical about everything?
Dr. Craig: Not at all.
Kevin Harris: It only relates to the Problem of Evil? Is that the only relation?
Dr. Craig: Right. It is merely the claim that just because we can't see God's morally sufficient reasons for permitting an instance of evil that therefore there is no reason. I take that to be just very evident given our historical and cognitive limitations.
Kevin Harris: This article continues,
We can all think of times when it is acceptable to lie to children for their own good. For example, if a friend of your child was kidnapped and murdered, you might not want to reveal the details to the child for his own good, at least not until he is mature enough to understand it. So too, God can have very good reasons for lying to us that we cannot understand. After all, God's ways are mysterious...
Left with this possibility, there is no way to know whether the Bible, if it truly was God's word, could be trusted to mean what it says. For example, maybe salvation really does come from works and not from faith and God's lie is a test to see who will live a life worthy of salvation.
Dr. Craig: Well, I think that this is evidently a misapplication of the response of skeptical theism to the Problem of Evil based upon his misunderstanding of skeptical theism. It is no part of so-called skeptical theism to say that God can lie to us because of some greater good that we cannot see. Typically, theists will say that God is essentially good and that therefore lying to us for consequential reasons is impossible. It would be contrary to his own nature. So this is just based upon a misunderstanding thinking that the theist is committed to the idea that God can lie to us for our own good. That is not a claim that theists are committed to. Quite the contrary, I think most theists would in fact reject that claim.
Kevin Harris: What you just said was: not necessarily based on biblical theology, was it? You are just talking about the nature of God that theists of all stripes . . .
Dr. Craig: As essentially good. It relates to what we just talked about – God is a maximally great being which would include moral perfection, moral goodness.
Kevin Harris: In other words, the Bible says God cannot lie and things like that. So they would say that begs the question because you have got to show that . . .
Dr. Craig: Now see here, Kevin, this is a confusion that happens all the time. We are not trying here to establish the fact that God always tells the truth. As I will say in a minute, I think that is a sort of hopeless enterprise as Descartes showed. Rather, what we are analyzing here is: does the skeptical theist's response to the Problem of Evil imply that God can lie to us for our own good? No, that is not part of what skeptical theism affirms. Indeed, skeptical theism would reject that claim insofar as its proponents are orthodox theists. So you cannot say that because the skeptical theist believes “this” therefore he must also believe “that.” Because he doesn't believe "this," namely that God lies to us for our own good.
If you step back and ask this wider question: how do you know that God isn't lying to us for our own good? Then what you have really done, Kevin, is you have fallen into the trap of Descartes' evil demon where, remember, Descartes in his skeptical fits said, “How do I know that there isn't some evil demon or evil genius that exists that is deceiving me so that everything that I believe is actually a deception wrought by this evil genius?” Although Descartes tries to get out of that trap I think all epistemologists would agree that once you begin to entertain that hypothesis then you are at a dead end because any evidence that you would bring or any argument you would bring against the evil demon hypothesis you can attribute to the deception of the evil demon. So it is simply impossible to get out of that kind of trap by argument or evidence. Rather, I think that one simply takes it as part of one's worldview that God is, for example, perfectly good, that he won't lie to us. This is not something that one believes on the basis of argument or evidence. It is just part and parcel of a theistic view of the world. So does that mean that we should all be Cartesian skeptics and we should doubt our senses? Doubt everything we know because they could be the deceptions of an evil demon? No! The mere possibility of deception by the evil demon doesn't give you any reason whatsoever to think that you are deceived. It is the skeptic here who bears the burden of proof to give us some reason to think that we are under this deception. In the absence of some sort of a defeater of our properly basic beliefs about the world and our apprehensions, we are perfectly rational to go with the truth of those unless and until we are given a good reason or argument to think that we are subject to the deceits of an evil demon or a lying God.
Kevin Harris: Doesn't sound like, Bill, that you are too impressed with these two arguments.
Dr. Craig: No, but still they are out there and so are worthy to be discussed.
See http://www.ex-christian.net/topic/61897-skeptical-theism-and-divine-lies/ (accessed July 28, 2014).
Total Running Time: 20:06 (Copyright © 2014 William Lane Craig)
Total Running Time: 20:06 (Copyright © 2014 William Lane Craig)