Friday, November 29, 2013

The Evil God Challenge and the "classical" theist's response

On another blog, FideCogitActio, some theists of a "classical" stripe (that's to say, like Brian Davies, Edward Feser) are criticisng the Evil God Challenge (or I suppose, trying to show how it can be met, or sidestepped). The main post includes this:

In book I, chapter 39, Aquinas argues that “there cannot be evil in God” (in Deo non potest esse malum). Atheists like Law must face the fact that, if the words are to retain any sense, “God” simply cannot be “evil”. As my comments in the thread at Feser’s blog aimed to show, despite how much he mocks “the privation theory of evil,” Law himself cannot escape its logic: his entire argument requires that the world ought to appear less evil if it is to be taken as evidence of a good God. Even though he spurns the idea that evil is a privation of good, his account of an evil world is parasitic on a good ideal; this is no surprise, though, since all evil is parasitic on good (SCG I, 11). Based on the conclusions of several preceding chapters, Aquinas contends that ”God is goodness, and not simply good [Deus autem est bonitas, non solum bonus]. There cannot, therefore, be any non-goodness in Him. Thus, there cannot possibly be evil in God.” He adds that

“since God is His own being, nothing can be said of Him by participation…. If, then, evil is said of God, it will not be said by participation, but essentially. But evil cannot be so said of anything as to be its essence, for it would lose its being, which is a good (Sic autem malum de nullo dici potest ut sit essentia alicuius: ei enim esse deficeret, quod bonum est)….”
This exposes one of the other key defects of Law’s notion of an evil God: insofar as that “god” would be the cause of all lesser evils, it would be the most evil thing, but the more evil a thing is, the less substantial, the less existent it is, and thus the less potent it is. If Law wants to take seriously the theological terms which he’s trying to hoist by their own petard, he would have to agree that a maximally evil god is not only ontologically incoherent, but also the worst possible candidate for being The Creator of All (though I am anticipating the upcoming argument). God could not be essentially evil, and thus could not be the exemplary evil which grounds the evil of all created things. As we already knew, Law is just blowing smoke.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A parody of C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters (from my book Believing Bullshit) - on the anniversary of his death

Here is the final bit of my book Believing Bullshit.

What follows is a cautionary bit of fiction, inspired by C.S. Lewis's fiction The Screwtape Letters, Letters from a Senior to a Junior Devil, which are fantastically entertaining and often very insightful. I don't claim my mirror letters are as good as Lewis's, but they are offered in the same cautionary spirit.

Just so we are clear, what follows is not supposed to be an attack on religious belief per se. I'm certainly not trying to argue here that all religious folk are victims of deliberate scams, or indeed any sort of delusion. Nor am I attacking the content of any particular religious or other view (incl. some well-known cults).

However, I do think that some religious folk have been encouraged to think in ways that effectively trap them inside a bubble of belief - in an intellectual black hole, as I put it in the book (and plenty of religious folk would agree with me about that, of course). That is the moral of the piece. I am flagging up some of the warning signs of such "black hole" thinking (which, as I go to pains to explain in the book, also crop up in non-religious spheres - atheists too can be guilty, though I also argue that religous belief systems are particularly prone).

I refer in places to specific mechanisms explained in the book, such as "I Just Know!" and Going Nuclear (follow these links if you are interested, or better still buy the book!)
The Tapescrew Letters
Letters from a Senior to a Junior Guru
(Inspired by C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters)

I have no intention of explaining how the correspondence which I now offer to the public fell into my hands. One or two details have been changed to save reputations, but the letters are substantially unrevised and intact.   
Bear in mind that the author—an eminent guru within some minor, recently invented cult—is a charlatan, as are her colleagues. She cannot be trusted to tell the truth, not even to her nephew. Her views about mainstream religion—and Christianity in particular—are clearly cynical and no doubt unreliable. I leave you to judge what is true and what is not.
The letters contain few clues as to the specific teaching of the cult. There is a limited amount of jargon. “Glub” seems to be the name of some sort of deity or god, “Boogle” the name of some particularly evil and terrifying being, and “doob” a term that members of this cult use to refer to outsiders. Glub and and Boogle may be two facets of a single cosmic being, or two separate, competing beings involved in some sort of cosmic battle—it’s hard to be sure.
Be warned—the letters make pretty depressing and sickening reading. Still, they do usefully reveal just how manipulative and scheming some people can be. Thank goodness such deliberate charlatans are few and far between.
Stephen Law
19 August 2010