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Sunday, November 30, 2008


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Here too I have no complaint. If the existence of God has not been disproven, it does not follow that God exists or even that it is reasonable to believe that God exists.

This is not so clear. If the existence of God has not been disproven because nobody has been trying, then perhaps nothing follows. But suppose we have been trying. It seems to me that we do have some confirmation (or maybe what Popper would call 'corroboration') of the claim that God exists. We have not been able to falsify the claim (taking falsification broadly to include showing a priori that God cannot/does not exist---of course, Popper would not take it that way, but nevermind), does seem evidential for the claim that God exists. But this is all intuition and handwaving. I could not give you any details on how one might measure degrees of corroboration, nor do I know anyone who can.

Hi Mike,

You're right: it isn't so clear. The fact that there are no arguments proving the nonexistence of God that all competent philosophers accept does seem to provide some evidence of the existence of God. But does this evidence make it more reasonable that not to believe in God?

The reason the teapot argument has so much traction is that it is in fact directly applicable to the God that most people believe in.

The only God that appears defensible according to your reasoning is a kind of philosophical construct. Some sort of first principle or underlying force of reality. (It's not clear to me exactly how you jump from theological ideas of "simplicity," etc, to God being sentient, or having desires, or wanting to do things such as sustain the world, but that is another issue.)

However, the teapot argument deals quite nicely with miracles, the efficacy of prayer, divine revelation, and all of the other embarrassing luggage of religion.

This reminds me of how Swinburne becomes much, much less effective when he moves from defending theism to defending Christianity.

This reminds me of how Swinburne becomes much, much less effective when he moves from defending theism to defending Christianity.

Well, it cuts in two directions, right? Christianity makes short work of the problem(s) of evil, for instance, and lots of other traditional problems. It does so because it has theological resources to manage objections that the rather thin philosopher's God does not. But the additional theology makes Christianity "top heavy" in Steve Wykstra's words (it dramatically lowers its prior probability--its probability coming into these problems). All of those propositions describing your theology are, esp. when conjoined, improbable. On balance, it might be better from a theoretical point of view to make peace with the problem(s) of evil (it's here to stay) and adhere to a somewhat thinner theology. I guess this is hardly a consideration for theists who do not take their theology to be a theory.

Among the reasons philosophers focus on the thinner God is that it stands in the intersection of lots of theological positions.

I don't see how Christianity or a "thick" theology makes dealing with the problem of evil any easier than if you were an atheist or only believed in the philosopher's god.

From a purely human-centered perspective, evil is a practical problem, but not one that poses any profound metaphysical difficulties. (Sociobiology could provide a convincing account of both good and evil, for instance.)

If you believed in only the philosopher's good, who would appear to lack any moral qualities, I don't see how evil is a problem for you. Explaining evil in a naturalistic universe is no more difficult than explaining rainbows or electricity. It is only when good and evil are expanded beyond the human sphere that evil becomes a problem.

I don't want to hijack this thread into a discussion of whether God exists and the nature of evil. I just want to point out that the philosopher's God is, as you say, very thin. I don't see why anyone would care whether such a "god" exists. And any god that does have properties that would make him relevant to human concerns (other than philosophical speculation) would be subject to the teapot argument.

I don't see how Christianity or a "thick" theology makes dealing with the problem of evil any easier than if you were an atheist or only believed in the philosopher's god.

Christianity is actually confirmed by the existence of evil. It predicts that there will be instances of evil. In this way it manages the problem. I'm not suggesting it makes the psychological adjustment to evil easier. That's not the problem of the problem of evil (or not the one I had in mind).

Elliot Sober has mad a good start at sorting out the relations between "absence of evidence" and "evidence of absence":


But I'm not sure he would want to extend the argument beyond the "empirical domain".

Two quick points.

1. The distinction between the God of the philosophers and the God of religion is bogus, as I've argued elsewhere. The God of Aquinas, for example, is not a mere philosophical construct.

2. It is a mistake to confuse the distinction in (1) with the distinction between a 'thin' theology in which the focus is on the nature and existence of God and the theistic proofs and disproofs and a 'thick' theology which adds to this core doctrine such more specific doctrines as (in the Christian tradition) Trinity and Incarnation.

Mike is certainly right to suggest that the philosophical problem of evil (not to be confused with the psychological or as Plantinga calls it 'pastoral' problem of evil) assumes a much different complexion when viewed within the context of a 'thick' theology.

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