Divine real possibility

Brentano argues, to my mind persuasively, that the kernel of truth in the Ontological Argument is that if God is possible, then he exists. So what arguments might one give that God is really possible?

1.) The Leibnizian argument. In the opening of the Metaphysics, Leibniz claims that what we mean by God is the most perfect being, and that if some highest degree is not possible to something, it is not a perfection. By contraposition, by calling something perfect, we mean that some maximal is really possible.

2.) The logical argument. I’m not a fan of this one, but the idea is that whatever is conceivable without contradiction is possible, and God is putatively conceivable without contradiction.

3.) The failure of the flagship argument for divine impossibility. The Argument from Evil will always be the paradigm argument for the impossibility of God, but over the last few years it’s become clear that it cannot be based on mere evil or suffering (which anyone can verify the existence of) but has to be based on gratuitous evil or suffering. But we have no ability to verify whether there are any such things as gratuitous evils, and even if did we would have to stand at the end of history to do so.  This leaves only the Argument from Incoherence, which is more obscure and difficult to make.

4.) From the possibility of human happiness. Here we’d appeal to a variant of Summa T 1.12.1: the fulfillment of anything seems to be possible, even if rare, and the fulfillment of a being that seeks first causes is to know an uncaused cause. In the order of ends and agents this cannot be either natural laws nor the universe.

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11 Comments

  1. Socrates said,

    May 6, 2015 at 12:30 am

    Dear Mr. Chastek:

    Is this a good defense of the defense of “God can bring greater good out of suffering” against the Arguemnt from Evil:

    “No suffering is justified. Justify it.”

    I can’t. However, you are claiming it is not justified. That must be proved. The statement: “no suffering is justified” is a claim that must be justified.
    If you can’t prove it, you can’t claim that it is impossible for God to bring greater good out of suffering, and the AFE is doesn’t prove the incompatility of a Good God and suffering.

    Thank you.

    Christi pax,

    • May 6, 2015 at 6:46 am

      “No suffering is justified. Justify it.”

      1.) All severe punishments involve suffering, and some are just.
      2.) If we had full knowledge that doing X will cause our own suffering, then the sufferings we undergo after doing X are justified.
      3.) It’s easy to see the justification of the suffering of an emergency surgery that has to be done to save a life, though without anaesthetic (which was more or less all surgeries until pretty recently). The idea is that any suffering that saves us from a greater evil is to be accepted.
      4.) All suffering of a guilty conscience is justified.
      5.) All suffering caused to us from the essential consequences of the evil things we believe is to some extent justified.
      6.) If there is a life higher than this one, along with an attendant death we might suffer from the loss of it, then any suffering we need to endure in this life to attain it is justified, for the same reason seen in 3.
      7.) Anything that can be claimed and incorporated into a meaningful life is to that extent justified, not by being right in itself but by being claimed and mastered by right. This was Viktor Frankl’s point in his logotherapy.
      8.) Any suffering as a purely natural phenomenon is good. I’s obviously not pleasant, but corruption is a good so far as it is the generation of something new and a continuation of the eternity of nature.
      9.) Nassim Teleb has made an career out of showing how some evil and suffering is necessary for the common good: economies are healthier when they encourage risk-taking, when they allow for many small-scale failures, etc. and the power of nature largely reduces to a willingness to use creative destruction for the sake of the health of the system as a whole. We’d of course prefer if we weren’t so knit into this system, but this would require, by definition, a supernatural gift to save us from the methods nature uses. The Christian tradition teaches that just such a gift was given, but was lost in some aboriginal catastrophe.

      • Socrates said,

        May 6, 2015 at 9:14 am

        How should I respond to this please:

        “When I was in 8th grade, my best friend was killed by 4-wheeler accident right in front of me. He was an only an child, and his parents were rightly devastated. I knew them for a while after (up until High School) and they were never the same, definitely for the worse. Nothing good came out of that situation except that I learned purely bad things can happen that have no positive outcome. Perhaps someone can only realize the truth of this from personal experience.”

        Would it be better to just show my condolences?

        Christi pax.

      • May 6, 2015 at 9:50 am

        Here again Frankl has definitive contributions to make: suffering always demands a personal response – a judgment – from the one who undergoes it. It forces us to answer for ourselves whether it has any purpose or meaning within life, or if it is utterly alien to life and meaning and unable to be incorporated into it. No one else can make this decision for us. I can’t force the decision of the person who watched her friend die, and neither can she force the decision of the parents who had to endure the death of that same child. If those parents came to see their suffering as ultimately redemptive and meaningful, their decision is just as unalienable and uncorrectable by others as the eighth-grader’s. Frankl saw all the suffering of Auschwitz as ultimately meaningful and redemptive, and we are in no more a position to refute him than we are to refute Wiesel, who seemed to take a much darker view of the same.

        As much as suffering looks like a fact, experience shows that it is more a question, since one and the same suffering can lead to completely different responses and judgments about it. Said another way, suffering a fact that is underdetermined to a theory. That said, I am in no decision to force anyone’s hand about how they will respond to the question, unless they are explicitly using me as a resource to make their own decision. This doesn’t mean that everyone is right, only that there is no further court of appeal we can go to after we have made the decision for ourselves. With suffering, conscience is the Supreme Court: it won’t always be right, but there is no further appeal for redress.

        These hard questions of suffering are not indications that the problem is insoluble, but that suffering is always a sort of challenge addressed to our conception of life, demanding a decision that cannot be outsourced to others.

  2. Socrates said,

    May 6, 2015 at 11:20 am

    So, ultimately where the believer and nonbeliever disagree here is on whether life has meaning or not?

    So the atheist chooses to view the world fearfully and without meaning?

    Christi pax.

    • May 6, 2015 at 12:37 pm

      the believer and nonbeliever disagree on whether life has meaning or not?

      Not exactly. There are atheist versions of life and suffering having intrinsic meaning (Nussbaum, maybe?); and Christian theologies that stress the idea that suffering has no meaning of itself, nor is it part of some plan, but only has meaning through our transformative response to it.

      • Socrates said,

        May 6, 2015 at 3:28 pm

        Thank you for your response:

        Wouldn’t the atheist versions that see life with intristic meaning also have to reject the Argument from Evil, and find other reasons to reject the existence of God?

        Christi pax.

      • May 6, 2015 at 5:30 pm

        I might not be the guy to ask since I think that everyone should reject the argument from evil, since it’s based on something utterly unverifiable and probably unknowable: gratuitous evils.

        But presumably one could think that life for the most part has meaning but that there are a few gratuitous evils scattered here and there, like Rowe’s fawn or Ivan’s tortured child.

  3. Socrates said,

    May 6, 2015 at 11:43 am

    How would you answer this question please:

    “To pretend the mother and child are equivalent is kinda crazy. Here is a question for you

    You are in a burning in-vitro fertilization clinic. To your right is a crying 10 year old child, to you left is a case of 100 fertilized eggs (already conceived). You can only save the child, or the eggs, which do you save?”

    Christi pax.

    • May 6, 2015 at 12:39 pm

      The child. The existence of in vitro children presents us with a moral problem for which there is no answer.

  4. Socrates said,

    May 7, 2015 at 2:59 pm

    Is this a good summary of the Arguement from Evil (please):

    “The AFE is an argument attempting to demostrate the incoherence of the Christian God with the experience of evil in the world. As such, the debate is not on rather the Christian conception of God is true, but rather if it is coherent with the existence of evil. If the AFE doesn’t establish the coherency as impossible, that doesn’t necessarily make the conception true: it just makes the conception possible.

    Therefore, I don’t need to present evidence for the Christian God being actual, I just need to show that evil in the world doesn’t contradict it.”

    Thank you.

    Christi pax.


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