Monday, July 22, 2013

Debate Round 4: Answers

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Below are my answers for my opponent in the “Answers” round of a debate between me and fellow blogger Potnia Theron (a.k.a. Steven) over the existence of God. The debate thus far:

Question #1

You wrote:
God's allowing a child to suffer purely for someone else's sake would constitute child abuse because—unlike you in your scenario—God could ensure that the child ultimately benefits from her suffering.
To some degree I take what I said back about that, because I don’t know whether God could do this without also eliminating some greater good.
To incorporate this into your analogy, it'd be like being perfectly able to prevent both Billy's suffering and save those women, but nevertheless ignoring the child. Obviously, I'd understand prioritizing those women's lives, but can you imagine someone ignoring a child in agony when he need only walk to the medicine cabinet and get some aspirin? Sounds like abuse to me. What do you think?
It depends whether that person leaving the child in agony has a morally sufficient reason for doing so. If not, then I think it would be child abuse or at least a cruel act. Maybe you think there can be no morally sufficient reason, but I can think of a few conceivable scenarios. Suppose the boy has a health condition such that, if the person were to give the boy aspirin, the boy would later suffer even worse than what he’s experiencing now. Or perhaps you can’t think of any morally sufficient reason beyond benefiting the child, in which case I could again think of counterexamples. Suppose for example the person doesn’t give the boy some aspirin because he is needed immediately to deliver injections that will save thirty people, and if he paused to give the boy some aspirin, the thirty people would die in horrible agony.

I think we agree that it wouldn’t be child abuse to allow the child to suffer if there were a morally sufficient reason. If a person allows something as horrible as child agony to happen and we can’t think of a morally sufficient reason, at face value we think the person is doing something morally objectionable, and so it’s understandable why some people think up the argument from evil. But a big problem, as I pointed out in my rebuttal, is that due to the chasm between God’s infinite mind and the finite human mind, it is plausible that if God and evil were to co-exist we would not (fully) know why God allows evil any more than an ant knows why the sun gives off heat. So while our ignorance of a morally sufficient reason for God to allow evil gives the argument from evil a superficial plausibility, it doesn’t quite work on a deeper intellectual level. The consequences of the infinite chasm between our minds and God’s may be unfortunate (e.g. we plausibly wouldn’t understand all the reasons why God allows evil), but they would be real if God existed. Inevitably, a comprehended God is not God.

Question #2

You wrote:
While there may be a possible world in which God counter-balances the unfairness of a Boltzmann brain's life-span with an after-life (or something else), the possible worlds my argument references consist in the events of the coming into, and passing out of being of a Boltzmann brain. There's no room in such worlds for compensation because only two events happen in them. Do you agree that such worlds are possible? If not, why not?
I don’t think such a world is possible for two reasons. First, because I believe in the Plantingan God (omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect in all possible worlds) and I’m not sure God wouldn’t provide an afterlife for Boltzmann brains. Second, if such a world existed there would also need to be another event: God (or some other personal cause) creating the universe. I don’t believe it’s metaphysically possible for physical universes to exist without being created by some transcendent personal cause (though explaining why I think this would involve an argument I did not get to in my opening statement).

As for whether there are possible worlds where a Boltzmann brain pops into being and neither God nor anybody else provides an afterlife for it, my answer is I’m honestly not sure. You’ve said that such an event happening is unfair but it’s unclear to my why that it so. Existence and life is a gift. If a small child receives $50 for his birthday and not $5 million, that his wealthy father could have given him more than $50 is insufficient for saying his father treated him unfairly. We might say it is better to have a lengthy life rather than a short one, and perhaps this is so, but when receiving a small gift (short life) rather than a larger one (long life), this doesn’t seem quite sufficient to fit the category of “unfair.”

A better objection, it seems to me, is that a perfectly good God qua being perfectly good would ensure the Boltzmann brain person continues to exist for all eternity, whether via the afterlife or something else. Maybe, but I’m not sure. It largely depends on what God views as good, and his ways may be slightly different from my own, and there might be infinitely many aspects of reality that factor into a decision like that (and this might include some goods I am not aware of). If I were to believe there is no possible world where a perfectly good God would allow that though, then since I believe in the Plantingan God, I would believe there is no possible world where God allows a Boltzmann brain to pop into being like that without also giving the Boltzmann brain an afterlife. For what it’s worth, if I were agnostic about the Plantingan God existing I would also be agnostic about whether such a world is possible.

All that said, I’m not arguing for the Plantingan God in this debate. The sort of being I am arguing for does not commit one to believing that God is sufficiently powerful in all possible worlds to stop events like that (Boltzmann brains popping into being for a short time and then ceasing to live with no afterlife) from happening. I argue that God is omnipotent in the actual world but I stop short of claiming that God is omnipotent and omniscient in every possible world. This would allow for the possibility of Boltzmann brains popping into being with no afterlife, since the theist could believe that in some possible worlds God is incapable of doing anything about it.

Question #3

Recall that the position I’m arguing for is that there is a being with the following characteristics in the actual world:
  1. omnipotent
  2. omniscient
  3. morally perfect
  4. metaphysically necessary
While I am to argue that God’s existence is metaphysically necessary (i.e. that he exists in all possible worlds), it is not part of the above description that God has all of these attributes in every possible world. To illustrate, I believe Michael Jordan played great basketball in the actual world, but in believing this I need not believe that Michael Jordan played great basketball in every possible world that he exists (there are some possible worlds where Michael Jordan was unable to do so due to a disability). Similarly, the theist could believe in the God of the above description without also believing that God has the property of omnipotence in every possible world, even though such a theist would believe God is omnipotent in the actual world.

To recap for the folks reading this, the second argument you offered was this:
  1. If God exists, then nothing is ultimately unfair in any possible world.
  2. But, there is some possible world where something is ultimately unfair.
  3. Therefore, God doesn't exist.
In your question #3, you said:
Finally, with respect to my second argument, you say "The justification for the first premise seems to rely on the assumption that if God exists he is omnipotent and omniscient in all possible worlds." But, it's unclear to me why my justification relies on this assumption.
Perhaps I should clarify my reasoning then. You defended premise (1) by saying, “if God existed, no gratuitous evil could obtain, and if something was ultimately unfair, it'd be gratuitously evil.” This seemed to be an allusion to the argument from evil that posits God as an omnipotent, perfectly good, and omniscient entity. When you said that in any possible world, nothing would happen unless God allowed it, this seemed to be alluding to God’s omnipotence. So it seemed to me that your defense of the first premise was relying on the assumption that if God exists in any of these worlds he is omnipotent and omniscient. I thus pointed out that while I was arguing that God is omnipotent and omniscient in the actual world, the position I was defending in this debate does not claim that God is omnipotent and omniscient in all possible worlds.

You say that, “God only needs finite power and knowledge to be in control of what happens in any given possible world.” You then ask if this has “changed your mind at all.” I agree one could formulate the argument and defend premise (1) in such a way that doesn’t require God being omnipotent in all possible worlds, but if God is so powerful that literally nothing can happen in the universe unless he allows it (and if he knows about all such events happening so he can prevent events that he doesn’t like) it does seem like we have at least a sort of quasi-omnipotence and quasi-omniscience, though again I agree that one doesn’t need to suppose that God has omnipotence and omniscience in every possible world to defend premise (1).

With that said, this hasn’t changed my mind about the success of the argument. Remember, my initial objection involved noting that the theist (of the sort of God I was describing) need not believe that God is omnipotent and omniscient in every possible world. Similarly, the theist could believe there are possible worlds where God’s power is nowhere near quasi-omnipotence, perhaps even possible worlds where God’s power is much closer to that of an ordinary human being. So I don’t think this works as a successful argument against the sort of God I am arguing for in this debate, because the theist could still believe that there are some possible worlds where God is incapable of preventing ultimately unfair events from happening, even though the theist would believe God is omnipotent and omniscient in the actual world.