Glenn Appearing on the Unbelievable Radio Show

There are just four more sleeps until I fly out for the UK to take part in the annual conference of the European Society for the Philosophy of Religion at the University of Oxford. I’m excited!

Adding to the excitement, another appointment has come up. Some of you may be familiar with the Unbelievable? radio show, which is also a very popular London-based podcast, hosted by Justin Brierly. The show features on Premiere Radio. I’ve been talking with Justin and he’s keen to get me into the studio to record not one but two shows with me. The first show will be on Christian physicialism: Those who (like me) profess a fairly conservative Christian faith, and yet reject dualistic portraits of human nature. As is the norm on the show, there will be another guest on the show who holds an alternative view. AT the moment Justin is looking at getting Keith Ward onto the show, who’s a keen defender of Christian dualism.

The second show – only a possibility at this stage, but we’re both keen to see it happen – will be related to the moral argument, and will look at the question of whether or not moral facts could exist if God did not exist. Justin’s looking for another guest to join us on the show at the moment, but the names of Stephen law and Julian Baggini have been suggested as possibilities – but we’ll see what works out!

This will be fun. I’ve never done a radio show before, and Unbelievable? has a large listening audience. Come to think of it, if you don’t subscribe to the Podcast via the iTunes store already, I highly recommend it.

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54 thoughts on “Glenn Appearing on the Unbelievable Radio Show

  1. I recommended you as a guest to Justin perhaps a year ago. Though obviously I thought that you’d have to join the program via phone.

    As for Ward, I’m not sure that he’s a substance dualist. I recently listened to his lecture where he set out to defend “Cartesian Dualism” but part of his defense seemed to be to minimize the aspects that are commonly associated (sometimes wrongly perhaps) with substance dualism. I can’t remember him saying anything on that lecture that wouldn’t fit with property dualism (as I understand it).

  2. That’s fantastic. You’ll get a lot of public exposure on ‘Unbelievable’. Moreover, to be paired up with Keith Ward is quite a coup. That’s something to really look forward to.

  3. Awesome stuff Glenn. You’ll get plenty of time on the plane to read. It’s such a long journey and not much fun. Hope you sit by some interesting people, and don’t feel too lagged when you get there. All the best!

  4. Hello Glenn,

    I love the blog and the podcast!

    “The second show – only a possibility at this stage, but we’re both keen to see it happen – will be related to the moral argument, and will look at the question of whether or not moral facts could exist if God did not exist. Justin’s looking for another guest to join us on the show at the moment, but the names of Stephen law and Julian Baggini have been suggested as possibilities – but we’ll see what works out!”

    I was wondering, what do you think about Stephen Law’s evil god challenge?

  5. Eric, I think Glenn has already in what he has written responded to Law. Law argues that there is symetry between the case for a perfectly good God and a perfectly evil God. An evil God would explain fine tuning, origins of the universe, religious experience and so on. His position obviously does not address the meta-ethical argument for Gods existence, that the commands of a good God explain morality. Laws admits this, he grants that an evil Gods commands could not consitute right and wrong the way a good Gods could but cites the Euthyphro dillemia as grounds why this is not a problem. So really his argument depends on the cognecy of Euthyphro, and seeing Glenn has rightly pointed out this argument is grossly overated.

  6. Yeah – what Matt said!

    As far a I can tell, Law doesn’t think that his evil God scenario would address the moral argument. And his appeal to Plato’s Euthyphro in order to do that job is utterly doomed, as the Euthyphro dilemma, when presented as an objection to divine command ethics, is a rather well documented failure.

  7. Hmmm, no luck so far in getting in touch with Keith Ward, so Justin has asked if Richard Swinburne would be a good option. I hardly feel worthy, but wouldn’t that be a treat?

  8. Those who think the evil God Challenge is so easily dismissed should check out the academic version of the idea published in Religious Studies recently. I will also forward an rtf version to anyone interested. Notice that it deals with “impossibility” type objections very effectively (and some objections based on moral objectivity are “impossibility” type objections).

    As to the Euthyphro – I don’t claim it is decisive. I merely point out that the claim that morality requires a good God is highly controversial (using Euthyphro merely as an example), that the vast majority of philosophers reject it, and in fact even many religious philosophers reject it. I have yet to see a cogent version of an argument that Good requires God.

    I grant you that some arguments are immune to the Euthyphro dilemma. But all the ones I have seen are still crap. Also, people typically exaggerate what such arguments establish. Often they establish at best only something like Plato’s Form of the Good. That is not at all the same as establishing the existence of the Christian God. Moreover the existence of such a Form or objective standard is apparently entirely compatible with the existence of an evil God (and in any case, even if it wasn’t, my response to “impossibility” arguments deals with that).

    Perhaps Glenn has a better argument. That would be a turn up for the books.

  9. I should add, of course, that, even if the moral argument for the existence of God did have *some* force (which it doesn’t), so that it has *some* effect when placed on the scale of reasonableness, remember that on the other side of the scale is the enormous boulder that is the evidential problem of evil, which, when added to the scale, will catapult your argument out the window.

    It had better be a REALLY good argument, Glenn.

  10. I guess there’s the subjectivity of it Stephen. While you, apparently, think that the evidential problem of evil is an enormous boulder compared to the moral argument (even if that argument were sound, which you don’t grant), I see it exactly the opposite way around: The moral argument is the mountain here. If it’s sound, then any actual cases of moral evil serve as reasons to accept the moral argument. But this point aside, I rather strongly suspect that what strikes plenty of us as obviously more persuasive will be determined by pre-theoretical commitment.

    As for people exaggerating what is established by the moral argument, I have to admit that I’m yet to see anyone say that the moral argument proves a fully fledged Christian theism. I’m surprised that anyone would, because that’s not what the argument is meant to do. Who did you have in mind?

    The academic version of the paper on the evil God hypothesis, for anyone like me who is interested, is online here. I haven’t set it aside. I have only noted that the moral argument is not addressed by that paper, and the very strongest critique of the moral argument that is offered in that paper is twofold: 1) It is contentious even among theists (although in fact it is largely accepted by theists, and I know of no cogent response to the argument so far from non-theists), and 2) the Euthyphro dilemma is an example of why the moral argument might be flawed (when in fact this line of refutation is a well known failure). So I don’t think the status quo is that we’re all sitting around waiting for a new, reinforced amazingly different moral argument. The standard moral argument for theism continues to be a strong argument for theism that is not compatible with the evil God hypothesis.

  11. So you agree the moral the argument does not establish the existence of the Christian God, even if it were a good argument – which it isn’t, on any version I have seen, and there are numerous variants – what’s yours? I’m not going to bother refuting arguments only to be told – “Ah but that’s not *my* argument”. What *does* your moral argument establish then? Exactly?

    Moreover, the evidential problem of evil is a very powerful-looking argument against the existence of that particular God, as he’s standardly defined – even many theists admit that. I am afraid I won’t allow you to sweep the argument aside as being too “subjective”. That clearly isn’t true of the evidential problem of good so far as the evil god hypothesis is concerned. Clearly, the evidential problem of good is decisive – that’s not just a matter of subjective impression. So why isn’t the evidential problem of evil decisive?

    You say, “Because there’s a compelling argument God exists!”. Well then, can you point me to a neat statement of this proof, somewhere? And, again, what exactly is the conclusion, if it is not that the Christian God exists? What sort of God is it? What are his attributes?

    You say about the moral argument “it is largely accepted by [philosopher] theists”. Really? That’s not my impression. Perhaps we should conduct a poll. What is true is that many theist philosophers believe their God is the source of good (or whatever). That’s not the same as believing they have a compelling argument for that claim. My guess is a significant number [especially outside evangelical circles] would not claim to have such a compelling argument. They’d be much more cautious than you, perhaps saying only that certain arguments were “suggestive” etc.

  12. re my final para – put it like this – I think an awful lot of Christian philosophers would be most surprised to hear that there exists anything like a proof of the existence of God. You think you have one?

  13. Stephen, it doesn’t matter that you won’t “allow” me to call the argument from evil subjective, because I didn’t say that it was. What is subjective, I was saying, is the assessment that the argument from evil is a massive boulder compared to the moral argument for theism. I see it the other way around – perhaps just as subjectively because the arguments that we are attracted to as compelling has more to do with our prior commitments than many of us are happy to admit.

    Moreover, the conclusion of the moral argument is not that “my God is the source of…” moral facts. The conclusion is that theism is true. There are a couple of versions of the moral argument that I’m happy to use, but I think they both boil down to the same thing:

    1) There can only be moral facts if God exists
    2) There are moral facts
    3) Therefore God exists

    Or:

    3) The basis of moral facts is either natural or supernatural (where these are construed to be mutually exclusive)
    4) The basis of moral facts is not natural
    5) Therefore the basis of moral facts is supernatural
    6) The best way to construe a supernatural basis of moral facts is in terms of a supernatural personal being
    7) Therefore the basis of moral facts is in a supernatural personal being

    Something like that. I don’t know where you found the quote “Because there’s a compelling argument God exists!” I didn’t say that, and what compels one person will not compel another, largely for non-cognitive reasons. I don’t know where you got the impression that most theists don’t think much of the moral argument (nor am I certain why you inserted the word “philosophers” into my sentence). But my experience is rather different (whether among philosophers or not). Of course you’re welcome to conduct a poll if you think my experiences have misled me. But in any case, objections to the moral argument seem (to me at least) to represent some of the worst in moral philosophy (the attempt to conscript the Euthyphro dilemma for this purpose is the perfect case of this).

  14. Unfortunately, both of these arguments (which are terrible – I’ll come to that later), as they stand, work just as well for an evil god – who is indeed a god and a supernatural personal being. What’s the argument for a specifically *good* god?

    Moreover, that the EPE is a very significant piece of evidence against the good god hypothesis is, I repeat, not to be dismissed as “subjective opinion”. For that the EPG is a very significant – indeed “decisive* – piece of evidence against the evil god hypothesis clearly *isn’t* just a matter of subjective opinion. Whether that’s what you intended to suggest or not (I’m not sure).

    By “compelling”, I meant cogent. Not psychologically compelling. Fallacies are often psychological compelling. Whether args are psychologically compelling is irrelevant here.

    I didn’t say many theists are unconvinced by the moral arg, I said many theistic philosophers are unconvinced. Hence I took your use of “theists” in your response to be shorthand for theistic philosophers. But I see you were merely changing the subject!

  15. By the way I consider all that “prior commitments” stuff (if you’re thinking C.S.Lewis, William Lane Craig?) to be just smokescreen. As if my having a prior commitment to the existence of fairies, or an evil god, means I am now allowed to assess the arguments for these things in an entirely different way. Pull the other one.

  16. I think your assessment of the “prior commitment” issue is awry, Stephen. The issue is not that your prior commitments allow you to assess arguments in a new way. What I mean is that your pre-theoretical commitments influence your judgement about what seems impressive or psychologically compelling. It’s not just you, of course, it’s the same for everyone, and there’s no escaping it. It’s not a smokescreen for anything.

    As for whether or not those moral arguments are compatible with an evil God, that certainly remains to be seen, to put it mildly. I note that in your article, Stephen, you suggested that perhaps moral facts (which are facts about morally right and wrong actions) might be compatible with an evil God because this God wills that we do great moral evil. But this is just to turn language on its head, and to rather gratuitously beg the question on other issues: For instance, if I am right and the basis of moral facts is in a supernatural person, then it is because of a relationship between the will of that person and our actions. Moral rightness is connected to that will in such a way that it is nonsense to talk about that being willing that we do evil. I am, after all, a divine command theorist!

  17. One more note – in the evil god paper the “second kind” of moral argument is actually the main moral argument. The two responses that you give there, Stephen, appear to concede that if this argument were sound then it would solve the issue. The only responses at all that you give are that firstly it’s contentious (as though the evil god hypothesis were not!) and secondly the Euthyphro type response. As the former is not really and argument and the latter is a doomed argument, it doesn’t look like there’s much for a proponent of the moral argument to worry about on the basis of what’s presented there.

    I have assumed that by “evil God” you probably just mean “malevolent” God (this is not a moral term, but if you meant morally evil then you’d get into trouble with theists who are divine command theorists). But I think this is coped with by the recognition that there are some moral facts, because the recognition of those facts always (as far as I know) involves the shared belief that benevolent things are the things that are morally right.

  18. “As for whether or not those moral arguments are compatible with an evil God, that certainly remains to be seen”.

    I rest my case. You have not actually produced an argument for a good God (you merely assert that there is, or perhaps, back-tracking a bit now, that there *might* be). I have an excellent argument that there isn’t a good God. I win, right?

    “You appear to concede that if this argument [the moral argument] were sound then it would solve the issue.” Nope I don’t. It would at best lend something to the “pro” side of the balance. But in any case we haven’t even see such an argument from you. As I just pointed out, neither of the above args, as they stand, do the trick, even if they are sound (which they aren’t).

    What else have you got?

  19. Notice BTW that I am *not* here relying on the Euthyphro dilemma.

    If you wonder why I am irritated, it’s because people wave aside the evil god challenge on the basis of arguments which they say are great, but which are patently terrible. The arguments you have wheeled out, Glenn, do not even, as they stand, favour a good god over an evil one. That’s a fatal problem before we even get to assessing whether the arguments are cogent.

  20. You rest your case because you might possibly have an argument that could one day (with further additions) show that the moral argument is as compatible with a good God as an evil one? That’s what it looks to me like you’re doing.

    As it stands, the moral argument appears not to be compatible with an evil God, and it’s no good resting one’s case because it remains to be seen whether or not this appearance can be overturned.

    Now, it looks like you don’t think the moral arguments I’ve given are sound, so you ask what else I have. But surely it is premature to assume that more is needed until someone shows where, specifically, the arguments lack soundness.

    Additionally, it may be that you’re not depending on the Euthyphro argument. You may think that its just an example of many similar problems. But no other examples were offered, and the Euthyphro is faulty, so what else is there?

    There’s little point getting irritated. I’ve seen appeals to the laughable Euthyphro objection countless times in spite of how well documented its failure is. As for the arguments I’ve offered, I’ve already indicated why they favour a good rather than an evil God. If my explanation seems wrong then say why, but emoting about it isn’t going to persuade me.

  21. Stephen, Professor Ed Feser has argued here (scroll down in the comments section) that your EGC is only applicable to a neo-theistic conception of god (which, as I understand it, is a god that is akin to a super person), and doesn’t say anything about the god of classical theism, which is the predominant conception of god in the Western philosophical tradition (that is, god as pure act, which necessitates the identification of god and goodness itself, thus rendering the EGC challenge incoherent). Do you agree that (1) the EGC presupposes a neo-theistic conception of god, (2) the god of classical theism is the predominant conception of god in the Western philosophical tradition, and (3) the EGC isn’t applicable to the god of classical theism?

    Glenn, I’d love to hear from you too if you have anything to say about Professor Feser’s response. And I’m definitely looking forward to hearing you and Arif go back and forth. He’s a formidable debater, so it should be fun!

  22. Law say..”Unfortunately, both of these arguments (which are terrible”

    Not wrong.Not wrong at all.They is more than terrible.They is almost child like even .

    Just like wow .What happen to university in NZ ?.

    I just remind myself again why i dont bother here on this blog often

  23. Hi Glenn

    AFICS the two “Moral Arguments” are appalingly bad.And I am disappointed to see that you did not even attempt to show to Stephen that they were not.

    Now you did claim that “As it stands, the moral argument appears not to be compatible with an evil God, and it’s no good resting one’s case because it remains to be seen whether or not this appearance can be overturned.”

    Can you please give an actual argument as how either of your two moral arguments shows that they are not compatible with an evil god? Until you do it appears that they just as likely support an evil god as a good one.

    Further you further say, in reply to Stephen “Now, it looks like you don’t think the moral arguments I’ve given are sound, so you ask what else I have. But surely it is premature to”

    This is not just Stephen’s opinion but the generally held position on these arguments AFAIK. In addition, you must be aware the majority of non-theistic philosophers support moral realism, and, although they do differ amonsgt themselves upon ethical bases, one could conclude that all would reject P1, whilst accepting P2 and rejecting the C3 conclusion and, similarly, reject P4,P5, most likely P6 and certainly conclusion c7.

    I certainly do and you need to give cogent argument for P1 and P4 at the very least in order to establish the soundness of those arguments. Until you do it appears these are indeed unsound arguments, that no decent philosopher would promote.

  24. So basically, if you keep saying over and over that an argument fails, is terrible or whatever else, then I guess people are to start believing that it actually does fail? I’m sorry, but I don’t find this strategy very convincing personally.

    Why does Glenn need to defend against the claim that his arguments are compatible with an evil god when nobody has given us reasons to believe that they are compatible with an evil god? First, maybe Stephen or Martin could give an “actual argument” showing that an evil god is compatible with the arguments above.

    Glenn,
    Since you per Justin on this week’s show and your post, you are debating about physicalism, why would Arif Ahmed, an atheist materialist, be the opponent?

  25. G. Kyle Essary

    You did not read my comment very well did you? It is a trivial implication of Stephen’s EPE is that an EG is compatible with either of Glen”s two Moral Arguments. Since Glenn has now been moved to respond with a new post on that very topic – which I have not yet read – this confirms, contrary to your point, that an argument needs to made that the moral argument could only lead to a benevolent god. I will read and, if necessary, respond to that post after finishing this comment.

    Second you avoided my point that there is no sound basis to support P1 or P4 at the very least and until an argument is made then both those moral arguments are remain unsound and so can be dismissed.

    If you think these arguments are strong and cogent, you should have no difficulty providing such support for P1 or P4. However, by instead, complaining through selectively quoting the only plausible conclusions, based on the current data available to me is not an argument let alone a defense of P1 or P4.I ndeed I can tentatively conclud this is likely an avoidance on your part of defending P1 or P4 and indicative that you have no argument to defend their soundess?

    Until and unless you attmept to argue for the soundness of P1 and/or P4, your assertions have no force and fail miserbaly.

  26. Glenn,

    One obvious example of a moral argument would be Robert Adam’s version. Summarised by him as follows:

    “what does the rightness or wrongness of an act consist in? I believe that the most adequate answer is provided by a theory that entails the existence of God–specifically, by the theory that moral rightness
    and wrongness consist in agreement and disagreement, respectively, with the will or commands of a loving God. One of the most generally accepted reasons for believing in the existence of anything is that its existence is implied by the theory that seems to account most adequately for some subject matter. I take it, therefore, that my meta-ethical views provide me with a reason of some weight for believing in the existence of God.”

    Adams contention is that a divine command theory provides the best or most adequate account of the nature of wrongness. The challenge then would be to show that an evil God’s commands could explain morality equally as well.

    I wonder also if Swinburne’s point about cumulative case applies here as well. Swinburne notes that of two hypothesis A and B, and phenomena P1. it might be the case that A explains P1 better than B does, but that there are several other phenomena P2-P6 which A does not explain . However B while explaining P1 less well than A, does explain P1 and also explains P2-P6 jointly better than A does. In this instance B would be the better hypothesis.

    Apply this here, lets suppose ( as you and I do) that a Divine command theory is a defensible explanation of moral properties. One also knows that God if he exists explains other phenomena such as the existence of contingent beings, the moral gap, the origin of the universe and so on, even if in each case a better secular explanation for each of these things individually God would be a better explanation because he explains all of them jointly. As far as I know no secular meta-ethical theory answers questions of cosmic origins or fine tuning or the existence of contingent beings

    Turning to the evil God case: God explains such things like design, contingent existence, the origin of the universe, and moral properties. The evil God explains the first three of these equally well as God but does not explain the last. The God good faces the problem of evil the evil God faces the problem of God. Hence when compared God explains jointly a series of phenomena better than the evil God does and so is the more sensible hypothesis to believe.

  27. Martin, why the moral argument does not lead to an evil God one needs to only examine the moral arguments that have been defended in the literature. Here I’ll simply mention the three most prominent that of Adams, Hare and Layman.

    Adam’s argues that the best explaination of the nature of moral wrongness is the commands of God. Anyone familar with a Divine Command theory knows that it is defensible only if God is understood to be good, if he is evil then there are possible worlds in which he commands evil actions and hence moral wrongness will not be identical with Gods prohibitions.

    Hare defends the Kantian argument that morality presupposes the belief morality and happiness ultimately coincide he argues that best way to account for this this is that God providential orders the world so that they do, this requires a just God one who proportions virtue and happiness. An unjust God which proportioned virtue and misery would not answer the question.

    Hare also argues for God on the basis of what he calls the Moral Gap: humans are required to always do what is right, however no person is capable of always doing what is right, but ought implies can. He suggests therefore that unless humans ultimately can be made perfect morality is incoherent. He argues traditional pictures of God provides the best explanation of how this can occur.

    Stephen Layman has argued that one feature of morality is that moral reasons are overidding, if I have a duty to do X then this provides a reason which overides ones reasons to not do X. He further argues that unless the world is such that happiness and virtue coincide moral reasons will not always override prudential reasons, again this argument requires a just God who proportions happiness and virtue.

    Now unless an evil God, never commands wrongdoing, always commands what is in fact right and orders the world so that the virtuous ultimately flourish and also aims at and assist humans in achieving moral perfection, these arguments do not lead to an evil God.

    So Glenn is correct, the moral arguments in the literature do not support an evil God.

  28. Martin: “AFICS the two “Moral Arguments” are appalingly bad.And I am disappointed to see that you did not even attempt to show to Stephen that they were not”

    Well generally when someone claims that an argument is bad, they bear an onus to show that it fails. Since Stephen made no effort to do so, I had nothing to reply to.

    Now, the premises of the argument that you note that I didn’t defend here in my comment (surprise surprise, I didn’t defend any of the premises, I only told people what they were. It’s called a summary) are quire defensible. I’ve defended them previously in a podcast series on the moral argument and will probably do so again. For you to walk around with blinders on and then complain that these premises have not been defended is not terribly persuasive.

  29. Let’s briefly check out Glenn’s preferred argument:

    3) The basis of moral facts is either natural or supernatural (where these are construed to be mutually exclusive)
    4) The basis of moral facts is not natural
    5) Therefore the basis of moral facts is supernatural
    6) The best way to construe a supernatural basis of moral facts is in terms of a supernatural personal being
    7) Therefore the basis of moral facts is in a supernatural personal being

    Every premise is questionable, but 6 particularly so. Why is the best way to construe a supernatural basis for moral facts is in terms of a supernatural being (rather than a Platonic Form, say), and even if a personal being why a good, rather than an evil, or morally neutral, being?

    However, there is a more telling overall objection, which is this: that this moral argument is based on the intuition that there are moral facts. Suppose it could be shown, as Glenn tries to here, that there can only be moral facts if there is a good God. Then, given excellent empirical evidence that there is no such God, the right conclusion to draw is that the intuition that there are moral facts is probably wrong (I don’t say it is wrong, because I am not persuaded by Glenn’s argument, just like most other professional philosophers)

    In fact, we already have very good grounds for supposing our moral intuitions are somewhat unreliable. See Marc Hauser, Peter Singer et al.

    So the bottom line is that, if Glenn’s argument were any good, which it isn’t, the right conclusion to draw, given overwhelming empirical evidence his God does not exist, is that there are no moral facts (but like I say, I don’t draw that conclusion, because Glenn’s argument seems so shot full of holes, such as the one I flagged up above).

    It boils down to, on Glenn’s side, a suspect argument based on a dubious intuition, against, on my side, overwhelming empirical evidence.

    The real mystery, to me, is why people can’t see this!
    ]
    As for Fesser’s “refutation”:
    (i) it depends on the privation view of evil, which is wrong. (Why not flip this and say good is a privation of evil?!) Actually, *some* evils, like blindness, are best seen as privations of goods. But many appear not merely to be merely privations. And in fact in some cases it is more natural to see the good as a privation of evil (look up “peace” in the dictionary). That evil is always nothing more than a privation of good is a myth that even many theists reject (philosopher Tim Mawson, for example)
    (ii)in nay case, the privation view is not obviously incompatible with the existence of an evil God (we are at least owed some explanation for why it is – this is particularly clear if we see good as an abstract Form, say. Fesser at this point just seems to *define* God as good – well, that doesn’t establish the impossibility of an evil God!)
    (iii) even if the privation view were incompatible with an evil God, and it could thus be shown that an evil God was impossible, the evil God challenge can *still* be successfully run, as I point out in the paper.

    Fester is one of those theists who, when asked to justify the privation view, waffle and refer us to Aquinas, Aristotle, etc. Ask him him to explain, clearly, *exactly* what the argument is.

  30. If I could just attempt to nuance a little Dr. Law’s comment at 38. Let’s bracket the query on premise 6 – I’m sure Dr. Peoples can defend himself there. As regards the more telling objection, that seems to me to be the atheist’s best response. But I take a somewhat different view of the implications.

    I take the strength of the evil god hypothesis to be the Humean point that, even if we grant the major theistic arguments (moral argument excluded arguendo), these give us no sense of the divine character (cf. Dr. Peoples’ remarks on the limitations of theistic arguments). Hence we can discount the evidence of the arguments when assessing the argument from evil, IF we decide to run that argument as evidencing an evil god (rather than God’s non-existence). Then follows the symmetry argument that any theodicy or sceptical theist move or whatever can be paralleled as justifying an evil god’s existence. Now surely it is within *this* framework that we must evaluate Dr. Peoples’ moral argument. Dr. People’s argument, or rather, the intuition behind it, does not have to compete evidentially with all the data from the evidential problem of evil. For the only competing hypothesis (unless we decide to countenance a partly evil or partly good God, which is only going to draw fire from simplicity arguments, and which, in any case, is going to lose evidential support commensurate to how plausible it is) is that of an evil god – and that has just as much data against it from the evidential problem of good. Atheism cannot be an option to weigh against it because we have bracketed it in order to avoid the evidential force of the theistic arguments. So all Dr. Peoples has to show is that the intuitions behind the moral argument increase the evidential support for the good God in a way that it does not for the evil God to a non-negligible degree – i.e. to show an asymmetry. And the moral intuition clearly provides SOME prima facie evidential support.

    A second point to observe would be that if the atheist does give up moral facts, then he can only advance the issue of evil ad hominem (in the non-fallacious sense of the phrase), which converts the argument from evil to a problem of evil. This is a considerable weakening of the position, for a problem with a position does not mandate a rejection of that position. An sound argument against a position would force the rejection of it or part of it, but we cannot give one here. A logical problem with the position is not a ‘problem’ at all (except insofar as it is putative), but an assertion of the incoherence of a position; if this can be made good on, it will show that the position cannot be rationally maintained. But a non-logical problem (I assume we are working with an evidential argument here) does not require that we give up a position, only that we hold it cautiously and maintain appropriate research into the problematic area. Almost all positions are implicity or explicitly problematic to some extent (this is especially true of fruitful scientific theories in the history and philosophy of science), but that does not mean we must reject them. (A good example is the position of new mysterians like Colin McGinn.) And the theist, given that this is an internal problem, can always quell some of his qualms (even if not all), by theodicy or sceptical theism and the like. In fact, given that there asymmetry due to the moral argument, it may be possible to happily take these moves to be dispositive.

  31. “So all Dr. Peoples has to show is that the intuitions behind the moral argument increase the evidential support for the good God in a way that it does not for the evil God to a non-negligible degree – i.e. to show an asymmetry.”

    No this is a mistake I am afraid. I don’t deny there are asymmetries between the two god hypotheses. Establishing an asymmetry is not the challenge you need to meet (check the paper). There are asymmetries – small ones. This would be a negligable one, as I have already pointed out, compared to the weight of the evidential problem of evil on the other side of the scale – nothing more than a dubious “intuition”! Moreoever there are other asymmetries that seem to favour the evil god hypothesis (as I point out in the paper) which may more than balance it out (see my paper). You have failed to show that a good god is significantly more reasonable than an evil one. Which is clearly very unreasonable indeed.

    “A second point to observe would be that if the atheist does give up moral facts, then he can only advance the issue of evil ad hominem (in the non-fallacious sense of the phrase), which converts the argument from evil to a problem of evil. This is a considerable weakening of the position,”

    This all depend, first, on Glenn coming up with a cogent argument, of course. But suppose he can. Why would this produce a weakening of my argument?

    If I can show that classical theism entails the existence of God having a property that there’s ample evidence does not exist in any such being, then I have shown *there’s ample evidence that God does not exist*. QED.

  32. Thanks, Dr. Law – I hadn’t read your latest paper (I know, shame on me!), so I’ve taken a look now. My opinions, for what they’re worth:

    I think where we may differ is in our evaluation of the relativity of unreasonableness. The significance of the evil god objection is that it takes the typical evidence for God (teleological, cosmological, etc.) out of the picture. So we’ve bracketed atheism as a ‘reasonable’ alternative – we’ve not said it’s unreasonable, just that we don’t want to evaluate the evidence for or against. So we’re going to end up with some form of theism, no matter what we do.

    This leaves us with the problem of which theism to pick. Now you maintain that, given the evidence of good OR evil, both good God and evil God are unreasonable. Now, let’s leave aside questions of a partially evil/partially good divine being. In that case, we *know* that the objective probability of either of these hypotheses is .5, whatever the epistemic probability is – because they exhaust our logical options (which we have been corralled into by sidelining a discussion of the evidence for a divine being of any moral nature). So the conclusion seems at least to me that the hypothesis of both a good God and an evil god is just as reasonable as not (whatever our subjective probability intuitions might be). To be a bit more colourful, you see the evil god and good God hypotheses as being on different sets of scales, but I see them as being on the same set of scales.

    Given this, any asymmetry is going to raise the reasonableness of the side it is on to more reasonable than not. But I’m not sure it would matter if we do take (per impossibile) both hypotheses to be equally unreasonable. For we have to pick one of them, as we have no other live options. And if that is the case, even an otherwise negligible piece of evidence on one side will provide us with guidance on which to pick. And given your statement in the paper that the moral argument is the theist’s best option, we would both seem to acknowledge that this evidence is decent.

    Hope that makes some sort of sense!

  33. Professor Law,

    I don’t think an appeal to the dictionary definition of the term “peace” says anything at all about what metaphysical conception of “evil” obtains. After all, if we’re going to go the the dictionary to settle metaphysical questions, then the “Evil God Challenge” is a nonstarter, since the dictionary tells me that God is all good. Now I don’t for a second think that this settles anything; rather, I’m addressing the irrelevance of your reference to the dictionary when a metaphysical question is at issue.

    But second, I think your misplaced reference to the dictionary actually makes Professor Feser’s point for him. As I said on Professor Feser’s blog, I don’t know much about the privation conception of evil, but I do at least know that the account distinguishes absences or mere negations from privations. As I understand it, a privation isn’t a mere absence, but the absence of something that should obtain (that is, it interferes with a thing’s final cause). Hence, it seems to me as if your ‘peace’ example shows that you know less about the privation conception of evil than I do — and I know very little about it — but you still confidently assert that it’s wrong!

    Finally, given that privations are necessarily in potency, and given that the God of classical theism is pure act, it’s not the case, as you say, that “the privation view is not obviously incompatible with the existence of an evil God,” for an evil god would be pure act in potency, which is an obvious contradiction. You can of course question the privation account, or the account of God as pure act, but it does seem to me that it’s clearly the case that *if* God is pure act, and *if* a privation conception of evil can be defended, then the idea of an evil god is incoherent.

  34. Hi Glenn,

    I just finished listening to your show on Unbelievable on Physicalism. I thought it was really good, but I was hoping the other guy would put up more of a fight. He didn’t really give any substantial biblical arguments; He and Justin both seemed to basically be saying “I just don’t like it”.

    Looking forward to hearing the other Unbelievable show you did…

    By the way, how did your “real” speaking engagement (the one at Oxford) go?

  35. Hey Dave

    John Haldane is a really nice guy actually, and I know that given a longer time and a more academic context he has a lot of stuff to say on the mind/body issue that’s worth hearing.

    Also, he doesn’t hold to a strong substance dualism anyway, he holds a thomistic view, which has a few things in common with physicalism.

    I’m not home yet – I’m still in Auckland on my way back home and have a couple of talks to give tomorrow. When I’m home I’ll give a decent report on how everything went.

  36. “Regarding Stephen’s comment at 38, this has been briefly addressed in a more recent entry.”

    No, actually my comment at 38 points out that Glenn has no decent response to the evil God challenge and his more recent post really doesn’t help on that front. So Glenn’s decided to change the subject.

    Eric. Give me a good argument for all evils being privations of goods. It has better not be that all evils can be conceptualized as privations of goods.Unless you have an argument, it’s just an (implausible) assertion.

    And in any case, as it point out, the evil God challenge works even if evil is a privation and thus an evil God is an impossibility.

  37. Incidentally Eric you have entirely missed the point of my peace example. I obviously don’t take dictionaries to be philosophically authoritative.
    But the dictionary reveals that a *prima facie* case for saying peace is best construed as an absence or privation of certain evils (evils being something that *shouldn’t* obtain, so “privation” seems like an appropriate word [peace is not merely an absence of something – it’s an absence of something that shouldn’t obtain: notice the symmetry].

    But as I say this is all irrelevant as the evil god challenge can be run in any case.

    I am always amazed at how the privation view is trotted out by people who think it solves problems it doesn’t, and who have no decent argument for it in any case (instead they just direct us at someone long dead who wrote tons of obscure stuff and say “I’ll think you’ll find an excellent argument in there somewhere!”)

  38. Stephen, my more recent post that I referred to is an explanation of why the moral argument points to a benevolent God rather than the “evil god.” Given that this exactly the subject of your comments, it’s hard to see why you think that it counts as changing the subject for me to refer to it.

  39. “Eric. Give me a good argument for all evils being privations of goods.”

    Professor Law, I’ve already said that I don’t understand the notion very well myself. My only point in raising it is that *if* such a view of evil can be defended, and *if* the classical theist’s conception of god can be defended, *then* it seems to me there’s a way to meet the EGC at least as far as the metaphysical possibility of an evil god goes.

    “Incidentally Eric you have entirely missed the point of my peace example. I obviously don’t take dictionaries to be philosophically authoritative.
    But the dictionary reveals that a *prima facie* case for saying peace is best construed as an absence”

    Fair enough so far.

    “or privation of certain evils (evils being something that *shouldn’t* obtain, so “privation” seems like an appropriate word [peace is not merely an absence of something – it’s an absence of something that shouldn’t obtain: notice the symmetry].”

    Professor Law, the term “privation” is, as I understand it, a technical term in Thomistic philosophy that just is the absence of something that should obtain (or, perhaps more precisely, that would obtain normally given a thing’s final cause). So while the everyday word ‘privation’ may be used perfectly well as you suggest, the technical Thomistic use of the term obviously lacks the symmetry you suggest is there.

    “But as I say this is all irrelevant as the evil god challenge can be run in any case.”

    Here’s what you say about this in your paper:

    “…even supposing an evil god is, for some reason X, an impossibility, we can still ask the hypothetical question: setting aside the fact that so-and-so establishes that an evil god is an impossibility, how reasonable would it otherwise be to suppose such an evil being exists? If the answer is ‘highly unreasonable’, i.e. because of the problem of good, then the evil god challenge can still be run. We can still ask the theist to explain why, if they would otherwise reject the evil god hypothesis is highly unreasonable, do they not take the same view regarding the good god hypothesis?”

    Professor Law, this seems to presuppose that theists reach conclusions about god’s moral nature by calculating instances of goods and evils in the world, but I see no reason to think this is the case. Can you provide me with an example of a philosopher or a theologian who has concluded that god is good because there is much goodness in the world? At least we can say that this sort of calculus doesn’t play any role in the classical theist’s analysis of god’s moral nature, so again, as Professor Feser said, from that point of view it’s irrelevant.

  40. Hi Glenn and Matt

    Been busy working so sorry I could not respond sooner. I was challenging Glenn to substantiate his claims and now he has done so in two new posts to this affect which I will address when I have the time.

    As for Matt’s response they are more of the same in the sense of him just asserting and not arguing for 3 (or 4 or 5?) other variants of purported moral argument. Since I will address Glenn’s version in the other post threads, when I have the time, Matt can add his two cents (or dollars) worth there should he feel the need.

    Happy debating to y’all!

  41. As for the rest of this thread, I have seen no decent cogent or consilient responses to Stephen’s arguments. Given the confidence with which Glenn and Matt seem to think their moral argument are meant to have, I am surprised.

    Anyway I will leave the debate here to Stephen and examine the other two posts.

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