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Wednesday, April 30, 2003

A "Demon" even God cannot excorcise.

God cannot do anything that is logically impossible; like draw a square circle, or make something red all over and green all over, or create a divisible metaphysical unit. And it could be that something cannot be a finite cognizer and have the resources to overcome sceptical cases. For example, it may not be logically possible for a finite mind to be able to assure itself that it is not a brain in a vat or under the spell of Descartes' Demon. Many traditional arguments against theism from rivil metaphysical systems can be understood as versions of sceptical arguments with respect to local topics. For example, that we must reject moral truths or color impressions because they have no place in a world of physical laws, can be seen as a scepticism about moral truths and colors based on having an alternative conception of the world which we cannot be assured is false. But perhaps our inability to assure ourselves under these circumstances is an essential feature of our finiteness as thinkers, so it is quite possible that we can do nothing about it. But since this is an essential feature of the kind of things we are, there is also nothing God can do about it. Intuitively, it seems to me that the only being that could overcome such a lack of assurance is God Himself, andthis would explain why He could not create other such beings.

Let's move our attention from Russell in the dock of heaven to Clifford's ship owber. According to Pro. Clifford, suppose a person owns an ocean liner and wonders if it is still shipshape. However, this shipowner lets the ship go full of passengers without inspecting it and the ship sinks from neglect of maintenence, killing all on board. Clifford's compelling intuition is that the owner is responsible for the deaths of all those people in virtue of failing to do a sufficient investigation of the seaworthiness of the liner, and further, that he would still be responsible even if the ship successfully made the voyage without sinking. From this, Clifford concludes that it is always morally wrong to believe something without sufficient evidence. But does sufficient evidence include being able to answer sceptical questions? It would seem not since imagining the ship owner doing a maintenence check and passing the ship because of it, and then asking "But how do I know the ship is really there?", would undermine the grip of Clifford's case for the sufficient evidence principle; the ship is definitely seaworthy whether or not we are justified in believing in its existence. So sufficient evidence for sending out the ship falls short of dispelling sceptical doubts.

Russell thinks that God ought to be able to provide sufficient evidence that God exists as opposed to agnosticism being true. But ought implies can and we have a reason to think it might be that God cannot meet Russell's request. This is an additional consideration in behalf of (4) in the previous post. Further, we cannot assure ourselves that God has not been doing all He could do to make himself known to beings such as us, as characterized by traditional arguments and evidences. In fact, once we begin to think that the request for defeaters of sceptical doubts is illegitimate because impossible to satisfy and also unnecessary for religious purposes (as in the ship owner's case), we may think that what is availble is not only legitimate but even super-abundant.

Monday, April 28, 2003

What God might have said to Russell

What could God say to Bertrand Russell when He asks him why he should be held guilty for rejecting Him and Russell says "Not enough evidence, God, not enough evidence!"? Here are some possible answers:

(1) "You didn't look hard enough." Russell assumes that it could ever be reasonable for him to be satisfied at some point to think that he thought adequately about the question and was satisfied that there was not sufficient evidence. But the state of being dilligent in investigation is incompatible with the state of being satisfied that there is not enough evidence. One cannot consistently hold to both as necessary states of mind for the justified agnostic.

(2) "You're begging the question." Russell insists on evidence understood as having to meet a particular picture of evidence, something that is either deduced from self-evident first premmises or which has a substantially high degree of support based on ultimately self-evident assumptions that establish prior probability. Since theistic arguments and Christian evidences fail both these tests, they do not support a reasonable belief in God. However, the world could be such a place that humans have reliable belief forming processes other than the one stipulated by Russell (mysticism say) and beliefs formed by these are warranted. If God exists and he is good, then he created us with such mechanisms that lead to a reliable belief in Him without arduous thought only capapble by a few. So Russell's view that no beliefs other than the one's he supports are properly formed already assumes that God doesn't exist.

(3) "You are too parsimonious." Russell unnecessarily assumes that all such proper evidence must by public, that is, it must be capable of being potentially sharable discursively. But suppose that there is some some evidence that is like a private synthetic a priori belief that provides basic compelingness to the idea that God exists. This differs from (2) in that such evidence would satisfy Russell's other requirements by being a self-evident truth but not self-evident to all except those who seek it. Russell should have been seeking the gift of basic self-evident belief and not rule it out a priori. (For more on this, see Dr. Peter Van Inwagon's essay here.)

(4) "You were too rash to conclude that the paucity of evidence was illegitimate." Russell assumes that an all powerful and all good God could not fail to provide evidence that fails Russell's standards. But this is not clear. If God had provided such evidence as that alone which Russell admits, human responsibility in freely coming to Him would be crushed. God wants people to exert there moral energies in seeking Him out, not undermine saint-making be preventing the search at the outset. So a good God might have good reasons for not providing Russell with the evidence he insists on.

These are all answers to Russell that I have seen in some form or another in print. Next post, I want to consider another I have not yet seen but which I think is as necessary to add.