Singularity Skepticism vs. Timelines Skepticism

by Luke Muehlhauser on October 17, 2011 in Machine Ethics

As Julia Galef said to me after Singularity Summit 2011, there are many academics (Hofstadter, Pinker, Dawkins, etc.) who agree that intelligence explosion is quite plausible but nevertheless consider themselves “skeptics” of Singularity talk because they associate the Singularity with “timelines optimism” (e.g. Kurzweil’s prediction that the Singularity will occur in 2046). Thus, Machine Intelligence Research Institute and other organizations may gain credibility by distancing themselves from timeline optimism.

On the other hand, timelines matter for decision making. If you think that intelligence explosion is extremely unlikely until 2200, then it’s probably best to focus research on the safety of more near-term transformative technologies like synthetic biology and even nanotechnology. If intelligence explosion will plausibly arrive before 2070, then mankind should redirect significant resources toward AI safety research.

Of course, no matter what your timelines are it’s still the case that, as someone (Jaan Tallinn?) recently said, it’s insane for humanity to spend less than .00001% of GDP on the mitigation of risks to its survival.

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{ 79 comments… read them below or add one }

Vladimir Nesov October 18, 2011 at 2:41 am

Thus, Machine Intelligence Research Institute and other organizations may gain credibility by distancing itself from timeline optimism.

From particular bad arguments, rather. How much of the skepticism leaks from implausibility of moderately likely intelligence explosion within decades itself, independently of good arguments for that, and how much from implausibility of Kurzweil’s method for divining timelines (and associated narrative)?

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Alexander Kruel October 18, 2011 at 5:47 am

…there are many academics (Hofstadter, Pinker, Dawkins, etc.)

Pinker is on record as saying that there won’t be a Singularity. I also talked to Hofstadter about this and he doesn’t think that it will happen any time soon and that you, the MIRI, are largely wrong about the nature of intelligence.

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CharlesR October 18, 2011 at 7:50 am

Kurzweil gets to his timeline by assuming Moore’s law equals performance. That hasn’t been true since the 90s.

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woodchuck64 October 18, 2011 at 12:44 pm

In the Tech Luminaries on Singularity link given above, Jeff Hawkins at least makes a stab at a detailed argument against the singularity:

If you define the singularity as a point in time when intelligent machines are designing intelligent machines in such a way that machines get extremely intelligent in a short period of time–an exponential increase in intelligence–then it will never happen. Intelligence is largely defined by experience and training, not just by brain size or algorithms. It isn’t a matter of writing software. Intelligent machines, like humans, will need to be trained in particular domains of expertise. This takes time and deliberate attention to the kind of knowledge you want the machine to have.”

Experience, training are exactly time-consuming because we can’t absorb and process information quickly enough. Deliberate attention on learning is exactly so difficult because we’re hardwired to focus most of our effort on social status and situations. An intelligent machine would be linked in to multi-gigabyte/s networks, while being not at all distracted with the fate of its reproductive options.

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Leon October 18, 2011 at 9:33 pm

@woodchuck64

There’s also the argument that scientific advancement actually has a dependency-like partial order structure to it, that dependencies aren’t always predictable, and that realizing self-improvement-level AI may have more dependencies than we know of or can think of (or dependencies which are straight-up impossible).

MIRI people do try to address these as far as I can tell (e.g. Yudowsky arguing that his optimism about artificial general intelligence is warranted) but there’s a big “uncertainty quotient” involved (rephrase in terms of priors if you will). IMHO, such a quotient/prior should at least in part be based on 1) the history of failed futurist claims, and 2) the history of metaphors for intelligence (wheels-and-cogs -> steam-driven machines -> symbol-manipulating computers -> artificial neural networks).

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Leon October 18, 2011 at 9:43 pm

P.S. Your objection is #2 (and mine is perhaps #7) here:

http://hplusmagazine.com/2011/03/07/why-an-intelligence-explosion-is-probable/

I would also very highly recommend this:

http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/summary?doi=10.1.1.2.8409

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Luke Muehlhauser October 18, 2011 at 10:16 pm

Alexander,

Hmmm. You may be right about Pinker; not sure. Unfortunately, ‘Singularity’ means many things and given their answers it looks like the people on that page were ‘weighing in’ on a different type of singularity than intelligence explosion.

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Moridin October 19, 2011 at 10:02 am

Slightly off topic.

Did you see the Craig vs. Stephen Law Debate?

It looks like Dr. Law may have pulled out a W.

http://winteryknight.wordpress.com/2011/10/18/audio-from-william-lane-craigs-debate-with-stephen-law/

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woodchuck64 October 19, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Leon, thanks for the links. Quite helpful.

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My Delicious Deltoids October 19, 2011 at 1:54 pm

Did you see the Craig vs. Stephen Law Debate?
It looks like Dr. Law may have pulled out a W.

Based upon the reactions in the link you provided it looks like the opposite is true.

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Justin October 19, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Based upon the reactions in the link you provided it looks like the opposite is true.

I think he started out strong, and then completely lost it in his first rebuttal. I had my head in my hands listening to him.

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My Delicious Deltoids October 19, 2011 at 3:40 pm

I think he started out strong, and then completely lost it in his first rebuttal. I had my head in my hands listening to him.

Did Law even respond to Craig’s arguments? Some reviews made it sound like Law reiterated his evil god tactic while not engaging Craig’s arguments. Nor was Law said to have advanced arguments for atheism. Ugh.

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Justin October 19, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Did Law even respond to Craig’s arguments? Some reviews made it sound like Law reiterated his evil god tactic while not engaging Craig’s arguments. Nor was Law said to have advanced arguments for atheism. Ugh.

Yeah, pretty much. And Craig was his normally weasel self, but Law didn’t call him out like he should have.

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My Delicious Deltoids October 19, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Yeah, pretty much. And Craig was his normally weasel self, but Law didn’t call him out like he should have.

Wow. A bit disappointing especially since Law had many people send him links from CSA about how to debate Craig. It isn’t like Law is unaware of this site (given that he is a former guest of CPBD).

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Rorschach October 19, 2011 at 5:46 pm

Can someone send me a link of law debate?

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Rorschach October 19, 2011 at 5:48 pm

Opps, my bad, the link that moridin gave wasnt working.

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Bret October 19, 2011 at 6:32 pm

Law didn’t need to engage Craig’s arguments for the most part. They were irrelevant to his point. Cosmological arguments do nothing to argue for a Good God. Only a Creator God. And Law was arguing that their could be an Evil God.

““That’s the challenge I am setting Professor Craig tonight. To explain why belief in a good god is, on the basis of the available evidence and arguments, not just a bit more reasonable than belief in an evil god, but very significantly more reasonable.” -Stephen Law

There is a great review of this debate in progress here.

http://atipplingphilosopher.yolasite.com/a-tps-blog.php

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Thomas October 20, 2011 at 3:38 am

The topic of the debate was “Does God exist?” It´s not a very good move, then, for the atheist side to grant that there exists an immaterial and enormously powerful personal creator or a First Cause of the universe. But that´s what Law did, since he basically ignored the kalam (and if you ignore an argument in a debate-context, you are implicitly granting the soundness of it).

As for the “evil god challenge”, Craig granted that one cannot rule out an evil god based on the goodness in the world, and hence one cannot rule out a good God based on the evil in world. To this Law had nothing sensible to say, except insisting that “of course the goodness in the world refutes the evil god hypothesis” and that Craig has “spectacularly failed” to answer his challenge.

The debate seemed pretty even in the end, partly because Law clearly is an effective speaker. But I found Law´s arguments (or lack of them) rather disappointing. Law did a good job of exposing Craig´s “evil proves God” thing, but otherwise Craig was more impressive.

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Moridin October 20, 2011 at 4:24 am

Based upon the reactions in the link you provided it looks like the opposite is true.

That’s because it’s a heavily biased Christian blog. Doesn’t take away from the veracity of the actual winner, but I challenge their objectivity because of past postings.

Try another Christian blog:

http://apologiapad.wordpress.com/tag/debates/

And ofc Dr Law presented his arguments on his blog:
http://stephenlaw.blogspot.com/

I think Dr. Law really put the cap on it during the Q&A. Some examples:

1. He got Craig to agree that we don’t need to invoke evil to use the problem of Evil. Craig tried his usual “but on naturalism there ISN’T any evil!” Dr. Law got Craig to admit, we don’t need evil. He also pointed out, atheism doesn’t entail Naturalism so Craig creates a false dilemma. (guess thats two points)

2. Craig tried to cite Stephens prior work on the resurrection. He says that Dr. Law supported the idea that Jesus didn’t exist. Dr. Law corrected him; Dr. Law says the evidence may leave us at agnosticism.

3. Dr. Law denies that he agrees or concedes the cosmological argument. (He thinks its irrelevant). Craig claimed: “Dr. Law conceded the cosmological argument because he didn’t respond. In debates, if an opponent doesn’t respond, they tacitly concede. I know you don’t actually believe in my arguments.” This is key because it exposes Dr. Craig IS NOT looking for truth but looking to WIN A CONTEST. That flies in the face of Dr. Craigs cronies. Whenever we bring up accusations that Craig is not really interested in truth but merely winning a debate, they flat out deny it and call it sour grapes. Well Dr. Craig proved them wrong.

In a short summary, Dr. Law’s arguments were against a Christian god, which is the god Dr. Craig argued for (given to us by the resurrection and the omnis). Dr. Law claims that the moral argument, the problem of evil and good, lead us to a Evil God just as easily as it does a Good God (The Christian God). If we have no reason to believe in an Evil God, then why believe in a Good God if paths to both Gods are equivalent?

That’s a quick summary, and hopefully I didn’t mess anything up. What was amazing is that Craig didn’t understand the argument…imo.

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Moridin October 20, 2011 at 4:25 am

“Dr. Law got Craig to admit, we don’t need evil.”

Should be:

Dr. Law got Craig to admit, we don’t need invoke evil to run the evidential problem of evil (or good).

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PDH October 20, 2011 at 7:15 am

My understanding of the Evil God challenge is that you basically start with a ludicrous proposition that even Christian audiences are expected to agree is likely to be false – that there is an Evil God – and then show that the case for Evil God is not substantially worse than that for Good God. If this is successful then Law has shown that Good God shouldn’t be taken any more seriously than Evil God, which is to say it should be almost completely ignored.

Therefore, if you reject Evil God you ought to reject Good God, too. Arguments like Kalam could just as easily be used to support Evil God and yet nobody finds them the least bit persuasive there, so neither should anyone be persuaded by them in the case of Good God.

The whole point is that Law thinks everyone would agree that the Evil God hypothesis is ludicrous. So, it’s missing the point, I think, to say, ‘well, all this does is show that God might be Evil.’ It’s assumed that people are already on the same page about Evil God.

Now, I haven’t listened to the whole debate, yet, so perhaps Law didn’t present his argument as well as he does elsewhere but the responses I’ve heard from comments on blogs don’t seem to be an adequate response to Law’s challenge as I understand it.

I mean, are Christians really saying that they think the Evil God hypothesis is plausible?

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mpg October 20, 2011 at 2:00 pm

@PDH

Absolutely agree. I haven’t listened to the debate, but many Christians and others are too quickly dismissing Law’s strategy. He is saying if you believe an Evil God is implausible, then seeing that, as he asserts, the Evil God is as likely given the evidence as a Good God, then you must accept that a Good God is just as unlikely. Now, I think the potential weakness in this argument is the idea that the evidence for an Evil God is identical to the evidence for a Good God. I am not convinced of that, and Law would have to offer arguments in favour of this. But generally, I think this could be a very, very effective argument, with some caveats.

I know many disagree, but a significant element of Craig’s success is his ability to debate, not the power of his arguments (though many of his arguments are very well crafted, like the Kalam).

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mpg October 20, 2011 at 2:09 pm

PS. An example of Craig’s debating strategy over arguments.

Craig is said to have replied to the Evil God challenge by saying that, as the Evil God is unlikely, we should simply reject that argument and accept the Good God hypothesis instead. This counter DOES NOT confront Law’s argument. Law is saying that, as the arguments for both conceptions of God are identical evidentially, the fact that Evil God hypothesis (EG) is unlikely, suggests the Good God (GG) hypothesis is equally unlikely. Criag has to challenge the idea that they are identical in order to effectively counter Law’s EG challenge. Hence, while many people are superficially impressed by Craig’s counter, it is actually inadequate to defeat Law’s argument.

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mpg October 20, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Last comment, promise: I find it ironic that many theists are dismissing Law’s EG argument, when it is based on a similar approach to Craig’s moral argument. If you think moral values are objective, then God must exist, Law is saying, if you think the Evil God is unlikely, then you must agree that the Good God is also unlikely.

Funny.

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Justin October 20, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Yes, but because Craig is such a good debater, he didn’t directly counter Law’s argument. Law was arguing over the existence of (Craig’s) good god, whereas Craig started his argument from first cause.

When Law attacked YHWH, Craig rightfully dodged Law’s argument and hammered him for his tacit approval of the Kalam. Craig is correct in that the Kalam doesn’t include morality of any type.

Obviously, an attack on YHWH is an attack on the Kalam, but not in the framework of a debate, only in the framework of good logic.

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Moridin October 20, 2011 at 2:27 pm

When Law attacked YHWH, Craig rightfully dodged Law’s argument and hammered him for his tacit approval of the Kalam. Craig is correct in that the Kalam doesn’t include morality of any type.

Craig was wrong in dodging Law’s argument. Craig is defending a good God thus his arguments hinge on the goodness of God. Law repeatedly stated that there is no moral weight added from the Kalam so the argument is irrelevant.

If the Christian God has 3 essential properties (and this isn’t exhaustive):

1. He is the first cause
2. He is moral and all good
3. He resurrected Jesus

If any of those are not met, the Christian God does not exist. In other words, destroy one of them, and the Christian God can be shown to not exist. Dr. Law chose his main thrust @ #2.

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Moridin October 20, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Forgot to add:

As Dr. Law pointed out, the Kalam argument is also good enough to support an Evil god as well as a good god. The important question is why is there a good god and not a bad god. That is the main thrust behind Dr. Law’s arguments.

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Justin October 20, 2011 at 2:47 pm

The problem was that they were arguing about different things simultaneously. To use your list of premesis, Craig was arguing for

1) Desistic God
2)Theistic God
3)YHWH

Even if law’s argument against pt 2, and it would follow, 3, that still leaves premise 1 standing. Craig correctly pointed out that (in the context of the current debate) evidence of good or evil in the world is not referenced for the existence of any type of god.

Although, Law did hammer him on Craig’s being a weasel and saying ‘well, there’s evil in the world, but we’re not in the position to judge if it’s REAL evil’. Making some type of argument of YHWH as a super-utilitarian. That’s special pleading in a clown suit.

Craig was wrong in dodging Law’s argument.Craig is defending a good God thus his arguments hinge on the goodness of God.Law repeatedly stated that there is no moral weight added from the Kalam so the argument is irrelevant.

If the Christian God has 3 essential properties (and this isn’t exhaustive):

1. He is the first cause
2. He is moral and all good
3. He resurrected Jesus

If any of those are not met, the Christian God does not exist.In other words, destroy one of them, and the Christian God can be shown to not exist.Dr. Law chose his main thrust @ #2.

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mpg October 20, 2011 at 2:53 pm

I might be wrong, but I think you’re mistaken. Law isn’t saying that Craig’s God doesn’t exist. He is saying that, unless Craig can show why a Good God is more likely than an Evil God, the two Gods are on equal evidential standing. Yet the Evil God hypothesis is unlikely, therefore the Good God is on the same evidential basis.

If you are right about the Kalam, then you would have to admit that Craig was unable to show that a Good God exists, but he was able to show that a Deistic/morally ambiguous God exists. Would you concede that?

Yes, but because Craig is such a good debater, he didn’t directly counter Law’s argument. Law was arguing over the existence of (Craig’s) good god, whereas Craig started his argument from first cause.

When Law attacked YHWH, Craig rightfully dodged Law’s argument and hammered him for his tacit approval of the Kalam. Craig is correct in that the Kalam doesn’t include morality of any type.

Obviously, an attack on YHWH is an attack on the Kalam, but not in the framework of a debate, only in the framework of good logic.

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Justin October 20, 2011 at 3:00 pm

I’m completely open to the idea that I’m mistaken, as I listened to the debate at work and was only playing partial attention. It’s from that context that I’m talking about the points that stuck with me from the debate.

I think you’re correct about what Law was trying to do; I just don’t think he did it very effectively.

Law did attack the Kalam a bit, and I don’ t think that he let Craig get away with it Scott free. In the framework of the debate, I think Craig’s 1st premise hung on pretty strong to the end of the debate, because it was only attacked peripherally through the second.

I think that’s unfortunate because I think his first premise was pathetically weak. I wish Law had divided his time up and hammered on the first premise more, because it was such a howler it BEGGED to be attacked.

I might be wrong, but I think you’re mistaken. Law isn’t saying that Craig’s God doesn’t exist. He is saying that, unless Craig can show why a Good God is more likely than an Evil God, the two Gods are on equal evidential standing. Yet the Evil God hypothesis is unlikely, therefore the Good God is on the same evidential basis.

If you are right about the Kalam, then you would have to admit that Craig was unable to show that a Good God exists, but he was able to show that a Deistic/morally ambiguous God exists. Would you concede that?

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Zeb October 20, 2011 at 3:12 pm

John Danaher has a nice dissection of Law’s Evil God argument here: http://philosophicaldisquisitions.blogspot.com/2011/10/what-can-laws-evil-god-challenge-do.html

It seems to me the Evil God argument only gets traction if the theist dismisses the Evil God on the basis of gratuitous joy. But the theist does not need to go that route. By first establishing and clarifying the meaning and nature of Good and Evil, one might argue that God is necessarily Good and an Evil God is a contradiction. That would be if the nature of Good is inherently dependent on the nature of God. Or 0ne could argue that the very act of creation and sustenance of a world is overwhelmingly good, or likewise for conscious beings or moral agents, such that no amount of circumstantial evil would make the existence of one of those things Evil on balance, and so the existence of one of those things (a world, a conscious being, a moral agent) is incompatible with an Evil God, but not a Good God. At this point I would probably lean toward the latter rather than the former (reading CSA and desirism has drawn me away from defining Good necessarily in terms of God’s nature). So I would say that while it may be possible that God is not Good, it is not possible that God is Evil. The two are not equally evidenced in my opinion.

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mpg October 20, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Here’s an example of why Law, if he is right, has rebutted the Kalam.

If, in a debate, I offered the following:

1. If x then a married bachelor

2. X

3. Ergo a married bachelor.

Now if my response challenges the possibility of the existence of a married bachelor…

1. Logical contradictions cannot exist

2. A married bachelor is a logical contradiction.

3. Ergo, a married bachelor cannot exist.

Then I have defeated the former argument, surely? Isn’t this what Law did throughout?

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Justin October 20, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Of course as Law pointed out, a naturalist can reject the notion of good and evil entirely as begging the question of supernaturalism. Unless we can define the word ‘evil’ as suffering, without any sort of framework.

I don’t think I would let Craig’s idea that ‘god must be good to be god’ fly, because then you’re just defining your god as a good god, when as Law pointed out, there’s no reason to define god as necessarily good OR evil.

John Danaher has a nice dissection of Law’s Evil God argument here: http://philosophicaldisquisitions.blogspot.com/2011/10/what-can-laws-evil-god-challenge-do.html

It seems to me the Evil God argument only gets traction if the theist dismisses the Evil God on the basis of gratuitous joy. But the theist does not need to go that route. By first establishing and clarifying the meaning and nature of Good and Evil, one might argue that God is necessarily Good and an Evil God is a contradiction. That would be if the nature of Good is inherently dependent on the nature of God. Or 0ne could argue that the very act of creation and sustenance of a world is overwhelmingly good, or likewise for conscious beings or moral agents, such that no amount of circumstantial evil would make the existence of one of those things Evil on balance, and so the existence of one of those things (a world, a conscious being, a moral agent) is incompatible with an Evil God, but not a Good God. At this point I would probably lean toward the latter rather than the former (reading CSA and desirism has drawn me away from defining Good necessarily in terms of God’s nature). So I would say that while it may be possible that God is not Good, it is not possible that God is Evil. The two are not equally evidenced in my opinion.

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Justin October 20, 2011 at 3:26 pm

I didn’t follow your syllogism. Can you re-state it?

I think Craig postulated this:

1) I have reason to believe that AN imaginary friend exists
2) I have reason to believe that he’s good
3) I have reason to believe his name is Josh

And Law (in part, he did cover several good points) responded with:

2) – the reasons you gave for him being good work just as well when flipped for him being bad.

Here’s an example of why Law, if he is right, has rebutted the Kalam.

If, in a debate, I offered the following:

1. If x then a married bachelor

2. X

3. Ergo a married bachelor.

Now if my response challenges the possibility of the existence of a married bachelor…

1. Logical contradictions cannot exist

2. A married bachelor is a logical contradiction.

3. Ergo, a married bachelor cannot exist.

Then I have defeated the former argument, surely? Isn’t this what Law did throughout?

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mpg October 20, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Zeb, you’re digging a grave for yourself.

By your argument, a being that created the universe from nothing, was the source of morality, and fine-tuned the universe for life, still might not be God. If true, then all of Craig’s arguments, do not show that God exists, QED.

You don’t want to go that route, I think.

John Danaher has a nice dissection of Law’s Evil God argument here: http://philosophicaldisquisitions.blogspot.com/2011/10/what-can-laws-evil-god-challenge-do.html

It seems to me the Evil God argument only gets traction if the theist dismisses the Evil God on the basis of gratuitous joy. But the theist does not need to go that route. By first establishing and clarifying the meaning and nature of Good and Evil, one might argue that God is necessarily Good and an Evil God is a contradiction. That would be if the nature of Good is inherently dependent on the nature of God. Or 0ne could argue that the very act of creation and sustenance of a world is overwhelmingly good, or likewise for conscious beings or moral agents, such that no amount of circumstantial evil would make the existence of one of those things Evil on balance, and so the existence of one of those things (a world, a conscious being, a moral agent) is incompatible with an Evil God, but not a Good God. At this point I would probably lean toward the latter rather than the former (reading CSA and desirism has drawn me away from defining Good necessarily in terms of God’s nature). So I would say that while it may be possible that God is not Good, it is not possible that God is Evil. The two are not equally evidenced in my opinion.

John Danaher has a nice dissection of Law’s Evil God argument here: http://philosophicaldisquisitions.blogspot.com/2011/10/what-can-laws-evil-god-challenge-do.html

It seems to me the Evil God argument only gets traction if the theist dismisses the Evil God on the basis of gratuitous joy. But the theist does not need to go that route. By first establishing and clarifying the meaning and nature of Good and Evil, one might argue that God is necessarily Good and an Evil God is a contradiction. That would be if the nature of Good is inherently dependent on the nature of God. Or 0ne could argue that the very act of creation and sustenance of a world is overwhelmingly good, or likewise for conscious beings or moral agents, such that no amount of circumstantial evil would make the existence of one of those things Evil on balance, and so the existence of one of those things (a world, a conscious being, a moral agent) is incompatible with an Evil God, but not a Good God. At this point I would probably lean toward the latter rather than the former (reading CSA and desirism has drawn me away from defining Good necessarily in terms of God’s nature). So I would say that while it may be possible that God is not Good, it is not possible that God is Evil. The two are not equally evidenced in my opinion.

John Danaher has a nice dissection of Law’s Evil God argument here: http://philosophicaldisquisitions.blogspot.com/2011/10/what-can-laws-evil-god-challenge-do.html

It seems to me the Evil God argument only gets traction if the theist dismisses the Evil God on the basis of gratuitous joy. But the theist does not need to go that route. By first establishing and clarifying the meaning and nature of Good and Evil, one might argue that God is necessarily Good and an Evil God is a contradiction. That would be if the nature of Good is inherently dependent on the nature of God. Or 0ne could argue that the very act of creation and sustenance of a world is overwhelmingly good, or likewise for conscious beings or moral agents, such that no amount of circumstantial evil would make the existence of one of those things Evil on balance, and so the existence of one of those things (a world, a conscious being, a moral agent) is incompatible with an Evil God, but not a Good God. At this point I would probably lean toward the latter rather than the former (reading CSA and desirism has drawn me away from defining Good necessarily in terms of God’s nature). So I would say that while it may be possible that God is not Good, it is not possible that God is Evil. The two are not equally evidenced in my opinion.

John Danaher has a nice dissection of Law’s Evil God argument here: http://philosophicaldisquisitions.blogspot.com/2011/10/what-can-laws-evil-god-challenge-do.html

It seems to me the Evil God argument only gets traction if the theist dismisses the Evil God on the basis of gratuitous joy. But the theist does not need to go that route. By first establishing and clarifying the meaning and nature of Good and Evil, one might argue that God is necessarily Good and an Evil God is a contradiction. That would be if the nature of Good is inherently dependent on the nature of God. Or 0ne could argue that the very act of creation and sustenance of a world is overwhelmingly good, or likewise for conscious beings or moral agents, such that no amount of circumstantial evil would make the existence of one of those things Evil on balance, and so the existence of one of those things (a world, a conscious being, a moral agent) is incompatible with an Evil God, but not a Good God. At this point I would probably lean toward the latter rather than the former (reading CSA and desirism has drawn me away from defining Good necessarily in terms of God’s nature). So I would say that while it may be possible that God is not Good, it is not possible that God is Evil. The two are not equally evidenced in my opinion.

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Zeb October 20, 2011 at 5:06 pm

By your argument, a being that created the universe from nothing, was the source of morality, and fine-tuned the universe for life, still might not be God.

How so? I don’t follow. I was just trying to say that there are other, stronger reasons for dismissing the Evil God position than the existence of gratuitous joy, and that those reasons do not apply equally to the Good God.

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Bill Maher October 20, 2011 at 6:10 pm

Did Law even respond to Craig’s arguments? Some reviews made it sound like Law reiterated his evil god tactic while not engaging Craig’s arguments. Nor was Law said to have advanced arguments for atheism. Ugh.

Not at all. Law actually did really well and (I thought) at least stalemated Craig.

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mpg October 21, 2011 at 12:23 am

Hi Zeb.

Apologies for my hasty reply.

What I understood from our previous post is that you think God=good, omni-attribute, necessary being and so any being that is to be called God is by definition good. What I think is a problem is that one could simply define a different necessary being with all the omni-attribute but who isn’t good, or even a being with all the omni-attributes but is capable of both good and evil deeds. If we were to define this being as not being God, but some other notion of a supreme being, the potential force of your argument evaporates. It may be illogical to say GOD is necessarily good, but it isn’t illogical to say is Eod (Evil-God) is necessarily evil, or Nod (morally Neutral God) necessarily capable of both good and evil. In fact these conceptions of a supreme being are necessarily not good, and it is logically impossible for either of them to be good.

This means you face additional challenge. You have to show that the necessary being that exists, if one does, is necessarily good. I don’t think asserting the definition of God as good does this, since God may not be the necessary being that exists.

I think Craig made a big mistake in admitting that, to paraphrase, the necessary being that made the universe and is the source of objective morality, needn’t be good, since, if you are right, theism is the belief that such a being is good, and Craig failed to show that he is good, therefore he failed to argue for theism over it’s possible alternatives.

What do you think?

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mojo.rhythm October 21, 2011 at 1:25 am

Why I refuse to debate with William Lane Craig | Richard Dawkins

I nearly fell off my chair laughing at this. Well done professor!

:)

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mpg October 21, 2011 at 5:54 am

How so? I don’t follow. I was just trying to say that there are other, stronger reasons for dismissing the Evil God position than the existence of gratuitous joy, and that those reasons do not apply equally to the Good God.

Zeb, sorry, I think I owe you another apology. I misunderstood your point completely (being doing that a lot recently). You absolutely have it right. Your point that there are reasons to believe a Good God (God) is more likely than Eod (Evil-God) or Morally neutral God (Nod) are exactly the way the theist should go to counter Law’s argument. However, I tried that approach with Stephen Law on his blog, and he provided cogent reasons, to my particular example, to suggest that Eod or Nod would still be as likely as God. So while I think your approach is the only sensible response to Law’s Evil God challenge, I am not sure it will work in the end. One reason for thinking this is that your approach seems to be an inverse of the logical or evidential problem of evil. If you think the logical or evidential problem of evil is weak or false, then it seems to the same for the logical or evidential problem of good. Just MHO though. I’ve been wrong too many times on this blog to feel confident. ;-)

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Zeb October 21, 2011 at 6:24 am

mpg,

The thing about the Evil God Challenge and the Problem of Evil generally is that both sides need to come to a mutual understanding of what the definition and nature of Good and Evil are before they can really discuss whether it is likely (or necessary) that God would be Good, Evil, or neither. If I understand correctly, Craig defines Good or explains the nature of Good in terms of God’s nature. The difference between defining God as Good and defining Good as being like or of God is that if Good is of or like God, then it is logically impossible that God is Evil. If we lived in a universe that was created by whatever one imagines the Evil God to be like, then we would live in a universe where the characteristics or the will or the commands of that Evil God actually were good, and perhaps we would have the moral intuition to recognize that set of characteristics as good. I believe that Craig’s notion of God as the source of objective morality asserts that if there is such a thing as true objective Good, then it can only be whatever God is like, and so the concept of an Evil God is logically inconsistent.

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Moridin October 21, 2011 at 6:51 am

needn’t be good, since, if you are right, theism is the belief that such a being is good, and Craig failed to show that he is good, therefore he failed to argue for theism over it’s possible alternatives.

I would say “he failed to argue for Christian theism”

====
Justin:

If the Christian God has the three essential qualities I listed above, then showing one of them to be false throws a monkey wrench into an argument for his existence. If the Christian God is necessarily All good, and if we can show that believing in an all good god is irrational, then belief in the Christian God is irrational.

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Ronnie October 21, 2011 at 11:31 am

If craig believes that objective moral values are dependent upon the Cristian God’s nature, including evil, then we atheists might be able to turn the tables on him with a counter-argument that shows that to be impossible, as well as showing that evil does not prove the cristian God’s existence. I don’t know exactly how such an argument would look as I am not a professional philosopher, but I do have a sketch that may prove useful in the form of premises and conclusions. It goes something like this:
(P1) If evil is not grounded in the Cristian God’s nature then evil does not exist as an objective moral value.
(P2) Evil is not grounded in the christian God’s nature.
(C1) Therefore, evil does not exist as an objective moral value.
(P3) Evil does exist as an objective moral value.
(C2) Therefore, the Christian God cannot explain the objective moral value of evil.
(P4) If the Christian God cannot explain the objective moral value of evil then the objective moral value of evil cannot prove the Cristian God’s existence.
(C3) Therefore, the objective moral value of evil cannot prove the Christian God’s existence.
Thoughts?

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mpg October 21, 2011 at 12:17 pm

Zeb

Question: do you have an argument in defence of your conclusion that Goodness is necessarily God’s nature? Do you think that no other conception of goodness could provide an understanding of what goodness is?

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mpg October 21, 2011 at 12:25 pm

Zeb

Re-reading your last post, I am not sure if you have understood what I was getting at before. You argue that God is necessarily good and therefore and to say God is evil is a logical contradiction. But as I said before, one might merely argue that while God is necessarily good, another type of necessary being could be evil: as I suggest Eod (evil necessary being) or Nod (morally neutral necessary being. Repeating the “God-good” argument doesn’t mean that other omni-attribute beings could exist too, I think.

But I suppose you would try to define good as meaning God. This, I think, is little more than an assertion without an argument to show that it is the only logical conclusion. Since many theists don’t believe God=good, I think you have a tough time, demanding a the proponent of the Evil-God challenge to accept your definition of good.

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Rorschach October 21, 2011 at 12:52 pm

The thing about the Evil God Challenge and the Problem of Evil generally is that both sides need to come to a mutual understanding of what the definition and nature of Good and Evil are before they can really discuss whether it is likely (or necessary) that God would be Good, Evil, or neither. If I understand correctly, Craig defines Good or explains the nature of Good in terms of God’s nature. The difference between defining God as Good and defining Good as being like or of God is that if Good is of or like God, then it is logically impossible that God is Evil. If we lived in a universe that was created by whatever one imagines the Evil God to be like, then we would live in a universe where the characteristics or the will or the commands of that Evil God actually were good, and perhaps we would have the moral intuition to recognize that set of characteristics as good. I believe that Craig’s notion of God as the source of objective morality asserts that if there is such a thing as true objective Good, then it can only be whatever God is like, and so the concept of an Evil God is logically inconsistent.

Thats the EXTREME edge of subjectivism! If god aproved rape in a alternative world, then that would be the good on that world?

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Reginald Selkirk October 21, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Speaking of timelines, is everyone enjoying today’s rapture?

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Zeb October 21, 2011 at 6:16 pm

I don’t subscribe to the idea that goodness is directly determined by God’s nature, but I think that Craig does (something like that anyway) and I think that would be one way to easily escape the Evil God Challenge. I realize that’s a very controversial claim, but that’s why I said the debaters really need to first establish and clarify the meaning and nature of Good and Evil before they can meaningfully debate the problem of evil or the Evil God Challenge. Anyway, my understanding of Craig’s thinking is that of course you can define the word “good” to mean anything you like, but the problem for any theory of goodness that isn’t grounded in God is that it is either contrived or subjective. Of course, as Rorschach pointed out, good=god is subjective in the sense that it could hypothetically be anything and it all revolves around the particularities of one subject. But the very meaning of subjective vs objective is contentious, and Craig seems to mean it in this specific sense – the goodness that is grounded in God applies to all beings, all times, and all universes, and is potentially epistemically available equally to all. Just as 1+1=2 in all possible worlds and will be a fact of life experienced and discoverable by all possible beings, so X goes against God-grounded morality would be a fact in all possible worlds and experienced and discoverable by all possible beings. Craig gets around the worst of the “it’s still arbitrary and subjective” problem by saying that goodness does not depend on God’s whim, such that he could sometimes say it’s good to make green things and other times say it’s good to make red things (or good to rape then good to heal, or whatever). Rather, goodness is dependent on God’s nature, which is inherent and unchanging. This way even God’s own actions and declarations can be morally judged on whether they comport with God’s nature. True, if God’s nature is contingent and could have been otherwise, then maybe we could have been in a universe where making green things was the ultimate act of moral goodness. But God’s nature cannot be contingent. Unfortunately I don’t know what the arguments may be for why the aspects of God’s nature relevant to morality are what they are such that we find ourselves in a universe where generosity, say, is one of the good things. But this kind of morality, being universal and grounded in the nature of the creator and sustainer of the universe does seem to be a strong candidate for true morality if there is such a thing. Theists like to use this to rebut the problem of evil (and it works for the evil god challenge too) by saying that while what we call “good” might be up for grabs, no naturalistic morality is universal or solidly grounded enough to be real morality rather than just some people’s preference. And if the naturalist says fine, then there is no “real” morality, theists can say fine, then there is no problem of evil (or Evil God Challenge).

I used to think agree with this line of thinking, that the only kind of goodness that is potentially plausible is reflection of God’s nature. Now I think desirism is a more likely account of makes goodness (and why God deserves to be called absolutely good).

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Bret October 21, 2011 at 6:48 pm

Zeb, you said, as a potential answer of the theist, “Rather, goodness is dependent on God’s nature, which is inherent and unchanging. This way even God’s own actions and declarations can be morally judged on whether they comport with God’s nature. ”

I agree that this (sort of) deals with God based Morality. And it may work for the Philosopher’s God. But where the theist may run into trouble is when they specify which God they are talking about. The biblical God and his morality are far from unchanging. The theist will answer, “yes”, to the question of whether or not Murder is wrong. But then, when examples of (The Christian) God condoning murder are presented, the theist implies that murder isn’t “wrong” if God, in his omniscience, decides it is necessary.

What I get from this is that there are two types of morality to the theist. One kind, for god. That is established by his desires, actions, commands, whatever. And another kind for us mortals, that is established by something else entirely that the theist cannot say comes from God with any plausibility, due to God’s own actions.

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slappy October 21, 2011 at 8:02 pm

I’m wondering what other readers here think of Craig’s arguments against the existence of animal suffering.

Craig often sites Murray’s “Nature Red in Tooth and Claw: Theism and the Problem of Animal Suffering” as a source of objective and evidential biology, mostly with Murry’s “three levels in an ascending pain hierarchy”.

From that source Craig concludes:

Even though animals like dogs, cats, and horses experience pain, nevertheless the evidence is that they do not experience the awareness that they are in pain. For the awareness that one is oneself in pain requires self-awareness, which is centered in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain—a section of the brain which is missing in all animals except for the humanoid primates. Thus, amazingly, even though animals may experience pain, they are not aware of being in pain. God in His mercy has apparently spared animals the awareness of pain. This is a tremendous comfort to us pet owners. For even though your dog or cat may be in pain, it really isn’t aware of it and so doesn’t suffer as you would if you were in pain.

This notion would seem to entail that animal cruelty is impossible, which at first blush seems to be hubristic madness. But Craig says he backs it all with Murray’s sound science.

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Justin October 21, 2011 at 8:08 pm

It’s fucking bullshit. It’s a brushoff in order to buoy his argument. This is the guy who says objective moral values exist, and then goes off and has a veal steak. Fuck him sideways.

I’m sure people were saying the same thing about black people a few hundred years ago; and witches before that; and I’m sure smug fucking assholes like him were saying that objective moral values are real, just before they paid a visit to their slave quarters.

Sorry, but that one statement of his in the debate made me see red. When I hear X cannot experience pain, even though they may feel it, I go ballistic.

I’m wondering what other readers here think of Craig’s arguments against the existence of animal suffering.

Craig often sites Murray’s “Nature Red in Tooth and Claw: Theism and the Problem of Animal Suffering” as a source of objective and evidential biology, mostly withMurry’s “three levels in an ascending pain hierarchy”.

From that source Craig concludes:

This notion would seem to entail that animal cruelty is impossible, which at first blush seems to be hubristic madness. But Craig says he backs it all with Murray’s sound science.

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Zeb October 21, 2011 at 8:28 pm

But then, when examples of (The Christian) God condoning murder are presented, the theist implies that murder isn’t “wrong” if God, in his omniscience, decides it is necessary.

I agree this is highly problematic. I am not a literalist, nor is the Catholic Church to which I belong, but I know many Christians including many Catholic theologians throughout history have made the mistake of giving too pat of an answer to the seeming moral inconsistency of God in the Bible. I lost a lot of respect for Craig when I read his defense of the genocide of the Canaanites. I’ll say this, to me the “Christian God” is the god Christ proclaimed, and it is an open question how the literature of what became the canon of Christian Scripture relates to that. I don’t see any glaring inconsistency in the moral nature of Christ’s god and Christ’s moral teaching for his followers.

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Justin October 21, 2011 at 8:30 pm

Luke 19:27

I don’t see any glaring inconsistency in the moral nature of Christ’s god and Christ’s moral teaching for his followers.

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Zeb October 22, 2011 at 6:19 am

Justin, that is the last line of a parable, not an explicit command. Who knows what it is supposed to mean?

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Justin October 22, 2011 at 11:44 am

That’s the point. A plain reading of it doesn’t mean anything very good; and because it’s in the bible, it will mean whatever anyone wants it to mean.

Justin, that is the last line of a parable, not an explicit command. Who knows what it is supposed to mean?

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Rorschach October 22, 2011 at 12:33 pm

zeb,

You cannot define good independently of god, rather, good is defined in terms of gods nature(whatever that means). Generosity, love and compassion are only good BECAUSE it is god’s nature. It follows logically, that if things like rape and sadism were based on gods nature, then they would be morally good. Thats the very definition of moral relativism. I dont see the theist escaping the problem by saying that god nature is simply methaphysically necessary, or not contingent. What if we have a prior independent reason to believe that god would be a nazi? Would a nazi god based morality be acceptable if this nazi’s god existed in all possible worlds? If yes, then thats relativism. If no, then you believe in a morality thats independent from gods nature.

Also, this god nature is not contingent objection conflates two different meanings of logical necessity: The one that ontological arguments use and the one that means that ~x would be simply logically impossible. But there is nothing logically incoherent in the concept of a evil god(if there is, i would like to hear). Now, what a divine command theorist requires you to believe is that if this ”evil” god existed in all possible worlds, then what we call evil in this world would be good, because it is gods nature…

Besides, why are we supposed to think that god is what we call ”good” rather than what we call ”bad”? Because you defined that way? On the contrary, We have good empirical evidence that god would be a evil or a indifferent one, that is, the evil in the world is much better explained by a evil god than a ad hoc good god with morally sufficient reasons. So its hard to see the theistic way out of the problem.

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Ronnie October 22, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Very good, Rorschach. That’s what I’m getting at with my argument above. It seems to me as if classical theists want to believe that their God only grounds good things. If God’s nature only grounds good things, then it grounds no evil things. If that is true, why do evil things, (like murder and rape), exist then? Rape does not imply any of the good things that God’s nature is suppose to ground. Murder is not fair, generous, or kind. It is unkind, cruel, and unjust. God’s nature does not ground unkindness, cruelty, or unjustness. Where do these bad things come from if they are not Grounded in God’s nature? Can God truly explain the objective moral value of evil?

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Zeb October 24, 2011 at 6:59 am

zeb,

You cannot define good independently of god, rather, good is defined in terms of gods nature(whatever that means).

I do define it otherwise, but I am just explaining what I understand to be Craig’s position which I also once held.

Generosity, love and compassion are only good BECAUSE it is god’s nature. It follows logically, that if things like rape and sadism were based on gods nature, then they would be morally good.

That’s true, but if you are complaining that changing the nature of the very ground of being of all that exists might alter the moral laws of a universe, I think your standards are unreasonably high.

Thats the very definition of moral relativism.

No it isn’t. From the SEP:

Metaethical Moral Relativism (MMR). The truth or falsity of moral judgments, or their justification, is not absolute or universal, but is relative to the traditions, convictions, or practices of a group of persons.

The kind of moral theory Craig supports has the distinct advantage of applying to every person equally in all actual universes.

I dont see the theist escaping the problem by saying that god nature is simply methaphysically necessary, or not contingent. What if we have a prior independent reason to believe that god would be a nazi? Would a nazi god based morality be acceptable if this nazi’s god existed in all possible worlds? If yes, then thats relativism. If no, then you believe in a morality thats independent from gods nature.

Could you explain how it is relativism? Any absolute morality is also either necessary or contingent, just like God’s nature, and whatever it is, it is what it is.

Also, this god nature is not contingent objection conflates two different meanings of logical necessity: The one that ontological arguments use and the one that means that ~x would be simply logically impossible. But there is nothing logically incoherent in the concept of a evil god(if there is, i would like to hear).

1. That which is good is not evil.
2. That which is like God is good.
3. God is like God.
4. God is good.
5. God is not evil.
That is the argument I would think Craig could make, because he believes (2). Did Craig and Law have some other agreed upon definition of Good? This is why I think people trying to discuss the POE or the EGC needs to have a mutual understanding of Good and Evil before they can even begin. But if you have a different understanding of Good than (2), you would need to get the theist to accept that definition in order to make the EGC or POE) stick. Then the theist might move to arguing that whatever understanding of Good you share, God is necessarily like that. I know there are some attempts at doing that as part of cosmological arguments, but I haven’t studied them much.

Now, what a divine command theorist requires you to believe is that if this ”evil” god existed in all possible worlds, then what we call evil in this world would be good, because it is gods nature…

Besides, why are we supposed to think that god is what we call ”good” rather than what we call ”bad”? Because you defined that way?On the contrary, We have good empirical evidence that god would be a evil or a indifferent one, that is, the evil in the world is much better explained by a evil god than a ad hoc good god with morally sufficient reasons. So its hard to see the theistic way out of the problem.

Now you sound like a relativist. How do you know that what you call “good” actually is good? Because you define it that way?

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Zeb October 24, 2011 at 7:21 am

Ronnie
It sounds to me like you are talking about two slightly different things, bad things that exist, and the badness of things that exist. A classical theistic response would be that no bad things exist, and that the badness of things that exist is really just an absence of the proper goodness of the things that are conventionally called bad. I’m not sure what you mean by “God only grounds good things.”

If you mean that only good things get their existence from God, then yes I think most theists, myself included would agree. All that exists is grounded in God and is good, and any evil comes from the absence of some godly trait in the “evil thing.” And the absence of godly traits must come from the free choice of some moral agent other than God.

If you mean that the identification of evil cannot be explained by the existence of God, I disagree. Evil can be identified by comparing the “evil thing” to God, and seeing how the evil thing fails to be godly.

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Rorschach October 24, 2011 at 6:12 pm

Zeb, you didn’t even understood my point. It’s relativism in the sense that rape would be good if god commanded, or as theists like to define it, grounded on god’s nature. How’s that not individual subjectivism?

if you are complaining that changing the nature of the very ground of being of all that exists might alter the moral laws of a universe, I think your standards are unreasonably high.

Yes. So its logically impossible that god is what we call evil?People who argue for that by the ontological argument just begs the question:

1. That which is good is not evil.
2. That which is like God is good.
3. God is like God.
4. God is good.
5. God is not evil.
That is the argument I would think Craig could make, because he believes (2). Did Craig and Law have some other agreed upon definition of Good? This is why I think people trying to discuss the POE or the EGC needs to have a mutual understanding of Good and Evil before they can even begin. But if you have a different understanding of Good than (2), you would need to get the theist to accept that definition in order to make the EGC or POE) stick. Then the theist might move to arguing that whatever understanding of Good you share, God is necessarily like that. I know there are some attempts at doing that as part of cosmological arguments, but I haven’t studied them much.

Given that you cannot define the good independently of god as he is the very source of morality , saying that god is good is just a analytical truth. Its not fundamently different from saying god is what it is. You see, according to craig, good = god’ nature. If his definition is true, then it follows that whatever god is, THAT would be the good.
Its a intuitive mistake. You have this independent definiton of good(altruism and etc..), based on our moral intuitions and claiming god’s nature is necessarily conforming to this invented pattern. But this is logically impossible: If god is the ultimate source of morality, then how can you have this independent notion of what is good? Rape is not intrinsically bad, but it’s just bad because it doesnt conform to gods nature. And then, we come back to the same question? What if god’s nature approved of rape?

Now you sound like a relativist. How do you know that what you call “good” actually is good? Because you define it that way?

And im a desirist, but thats not relevant, we are arguing if DCT is a adequate account of a objective morality.

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Ronnie October 24, 2011 at 7:03 pm

Zeb,
This is what I’m getting at.
Does God prohibit things and actions because they are evil, or does God prohibit things and actions because he says they are evil? if the former, then we can know what is evil because that moral value exists independently of God. We do not need him. If the latter then what God prohibits is arbitrary and subjective. Because of this, a classical theist can either: take one of the horns of this dilemma or claim that evil is grounded in God’s nature. It does no good to say that God just knows what is evil, because we know what is evil, too. A being does not have to be omniscient to know what is evil and what is not.
It also does no good to say that God can compare a thing’s traits to his own nature and decide what is evil based on that comparison. For that raises the questions; Why didn’t God see that X was bad before he created it? Surely a perfect being would know how X would compare to his nature before he made it real.
Classical theists cannot object to my argument using free will as a defense either. For God could have given us free will in a world where the objective moral value called “evil” did not exist. If he had done that, then there could have been no action performed that took on that objective value.
If theists object that there can be no free will without evil then they would have effectively eliminated the possibility of heaven. They would have also created another incompatibility between God’s supposed attributes. If it is not possible to have free will without committing evil and God is perfectly free, then God cannot be perfectly free and omnibenevolent at the same time.
From all this it follows that god cannot explain the existence of the objective moral value called “evil” unless it is grounded in God’s nature.

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Zeb October 26, 2011 at 7:30 am

Rorschachand Ronnie, will you be following these comments in a few days? I could respond to what you’ve said, but probably not until the weekend. If you are not interested in pursuing this further that’s fine. I am a sort of desirist myself so I am not interested in convincing you that Craig’s moral theory or DCT are correct, but I do think you misunderstand and underestimate them and I find it interesting to try to clarify my understanding.

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Ronnie October 26, 2011 at 10:04 am

Thank you, Zeb. I will follow these comments for a little while yet. Please feel free to respond to me.

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Rorschach October 26, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Take your time.

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Zeb October 30, 2011 at 2:51 pm

Rorschach

Technically God’s Nature Divine Command Theory is a kind of subjectivism, but not in the way that term is most commonly used as a criticism. It is not a kind of morality that varies from subject to subject. Nor does it vary from society to society, as moral relativism does. GNDCT is universal and unchanging. That is the sense in which it is objective: it does not vary from person to person, no matter what culture, era, place, or even universe that person is in.

It seems your main critique is that things commonly held to be evil would be good if God were different. But on theism, God’s nature is the fundamental basis of all reality, more fundamental than the laws of physics even. To suppose God being different is to suppose the fundamental nature or reality being different. I don’t know how any moral theory could hope to maintain the same prohibitions, obligations, and promotions when the fundamental nature of reality changes, so I don’t see how that is a weakness for GNDCT.

I do not think it is logically impossible for God to be “what we call evil.” But is “what we call evil” really evil? Part of what religion and philosophy have always been trying to do is answer the questions, “What does it mean to be good?” and “What particular acts/intentions/etc are the good ones?” GNDCT is an answer to the first question and it opens a path to answering the second. It (along with some more Christian theology) also provides an explanation for that intuitive sense of morality you referred to which itself seems independent of God. But only a relativist/subjectivist would say that whatever a person intuitively thinks is good/evil necessarily is. GNDCT would tell us what sometimes those intuitions are right, sometimes wrong, and why. I think Desirism gives a more convincing explanation for why they are right or wrong, but I think GNDCT succeeds in being an objective (in the ways that matter) theory or morality that fits with our intuitive sense or morality and at the same time knocks down that POE and EGC with pure logic.

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Zeb October 30, 2011 at 3:22 pm

Ronnie

I’m not sure I understand your entire point, but I will try to explain how a theist subscribing to the “good is grounded in God’s nature” theory could believe that evil exists without believing that evil is grounded in God nature, created by God, or grounded in some independent standard. In a lot of classical theistic morality, it is not people, events, acts, or consequences that are truly evil. Rather, it is acts of will, or, you might say, choices. So, for instance, it is not the pushing of the knife into the heart that is the evil part of suicide, nor is it the desire to be free of pain, nor the extinguishing of life or the suffering of survivors. These might all be rightfullysad, objectionable, undesired, or whatever, but they are not the moral evil of suicide.. The moral evil was is the act of will to defy God, or reject godliness, or exclude God’s goodness from one’s life. There is not some positively existing thing that is present when such an evil occurs, but only a lack of some godly thing that would, could, and should be present. And while free will does not necessitate that such absences of godliness take place, it does necessitate that they be possible. In other words, while God can make a world with free beings that are able to never do evil, God cannot make a world with free beings that are unable to do evil. So he made a world where rejecting him is possible, and those occasions are labeled evil. That’s one solution to the Problem of Heaven – Heaven is just the place where free beings choose to never reject God even though they retain the ability to do so. As to whether God has morally significant free will, I think it becomes a nonsense question with this definition of Good. Can God reject godliness? To say that he cannot does not in any way imply a restriction on God’s action.

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Rorschach October 30, 2011 at 5:21 pm

That is the sense in which it is objective: it does not vary from person to person, no matter what culture, era, place, or even universe that person is in.

Now we’ve reached a terminological impasse. First, i think you’re conflating a universal morality with a objective morality: It does not vary from individual from individual, nor from society from society, and it is bounding to everyone, but is is still individual subjectivism. And apart from being binding to everyone, that is not fundamentally different from a morality based on stalin, or mao tse tung.

It seems your main critique is that things commonly held to be evil would be good if God were different. But on theism, God’s nature is the fundamental basis of all reality, more fundamental than the laws of physics even. To suppose God being different is to suppose the fundamental nature or reality being different

Sure. That follows analitically from the fact that good = God’s nature. This is simple eutyphro, the argument can be structured in the form of god’s nature: If you accept strict DCT, then it would be unavoidable that rape would be right if god’s nature hypothetically aproved. Now, the second horn, the view that good is what we call good, and that god just necessarily conforms to this pattern, is the view that you seem to be taking. But in that case, god woudn’t be the source of good, since good exist independently of god, and therefore, DCT would be false.

You admitted yourself, that a hitler-like god is at least logically possible. And if that is, then in that possible world nazism would be the good, and that, entails subjectvism. I dont see how we can get out of the problem by simply stating that god is the fundamental basis of all reality. Imagine a being in this world claiming: Hitler god is the basis for all nature! You cannot say nazi is wrong because he just is the GOOD, and exists in all possible worlds!

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Ronnie October 31, 2011 at 12:21 am

Zeb,
“In a lot of classical
theistic morality, it is not people, events, acts, or consequences that are truly evil. Rather, it is acts of will, or, you might say, choices.”
A lot of classical theistic morality is simply wrong then. Cancer is a natural evil. No one gets cancer because they choose to. How does God explain cancer?
I asked above, “Does God prohibit things and actions because they are evil, or does God prohibit things and actions because he says they are evil?”
“The moral evil was is the act of will to defy God, or reject godliness, or exclude God’s goodness from one’s life.”
That does not answer my question. Why is defying or rejecting God evil. If it’s just because God says that it is, why should I listen?
“There is not some positively existing
thing that is present when such an evil occurs, but only a lack of some godly thing that would, could, and should be present.”
Hardness is the absence of softness, yet we still consider hardness to be a posibively existing property. So why can’t unkindness be a posibively existing property of willed acts? After all, if unfairness or unkindness did not posibively exist then it would not make sense to talk about them.
“while free will does
not necessitate that such absences of godliness take place, it does necessitate that they be possible. In other words, while God can make a world with
free beings that are able to never do evil, God cannot make a world with free beings that are unable to do evil. So he made a world where rejecting him
is possible, and those occasions are labeled evil. That’s one solution to the Problem of Heaven – Heaven is just the place where free beings choose to
never reject God even though they retain the ability to do so.”
That seems like a pretty big bullet to bite for the theist. To say that God cannot make a world where the objective moral value of evil did not exist is tantamount to saying that making such a world is logically impossible. Can an argument be made for that logical impossibility? It seems to me as if the classical theist would have to define free will as a state in which it is necessarily impossible to not do evil at least once in order to make such an argument possible. The mere possibility of evil actions will not save God from my objections. For it is not logically impossible to make a possible state of affairs impossible.
“As to whether God has morally significant free will, I think it becomes a nonsense question
with this definition of Good. Can God reject godliness? To say that he cannot does not in any way imply a restriction on God’s action.”
Yes it does. It is not logically impossible to reject godliness. If God cannot do what it is logically possible to do then he is not omnipotent. It might be impossible for God to reject godliness, but that is because his nature determines what he can and cannot do. If anything at all determines what God can and cannot do then God is not perfectly free.

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Zeb November 6, 2011 at 5:11 pm

Rorschach I can go along with calling morality based on God’s nature subjective as long it is clear that ‘subjective’ only means that it is based on a subject. Since people usually don’t mean ‘subjective’ in that strictly limited sense I am hesitant to apply the term outside of this conversation, but for here, fine. But then what would be your objection to morality being subjective in that limited sense? When people say that taste is subjective, they mean that it varies from person to person and no one can claim to have the definitively correct taste. And when people claim that morality is subjective, or accuse someone of espousing subjective morality, they usually mean it the same way.
And apart from being binding to everyone, that is not fundamentally different from a morality based on stalin, or mao tse tung.
I don’t know what you mean by fundamentally different, but it certainly is different, at least in that it is coming from the ground of all being, the source of all other laws of the universe, and a creator who would have had some intentional purpose for the moral agents it created.

I’m not talking about what I personally believe, but the view I am trying to explain is not that

good is what we call good, and that god just necessarily conforms to this pattern

It’s closer to the former, that good is whatever God is like. And if it is possible for God to be a Nazi, then it is possible that Nazism is what is really the good. Part of what philosophy and religion have long been trying to do is understand what goodness is, and then work out what particular acts or desires or state of affairs are good ones. I’m inferring from you a view that what we call good really is the good, and a moral theory ought to just explain why we call the things good that we do. That to me seems like true relativism, the view that us calling something good is what makes it good, rather than the view that there is a “true good” out there to be discovered. I don’t mean that as a criticism, but I just don’t understand what your objection is to God based morality when you call it subjectivism.

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Zeb November 6, 2011 at 6:30 pm

Ronnie
To the first part of your response, could you tell me what you mean by evil?

As to the second part, it indeed is logically impossible for God to make a world with free moral agents and no possibility of doing evil. Morally significant free will is defined to include the ability to choose good and/or evil. To have the ability to choose evil necessitates the possibility of choosing evil, but it does not necessitate the actuality of choosing evil.

I don’t know what this sentence of yours means:

For it is not logically impossible to make a possible state of affairs impossible.

It is not logically impossible to reject godliness. If God cannot do what it is logically possible to do then he is not omnipotent.

What do you think is meant by godliness? To be godly is to be like God. How could God act so as to be unlike God? Whatever he might do to be unlike himself, that act becomes godly because God did it. It is not just logically impossible for God to reject godliness, it is semantically incoherent.

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Zeb November 6, 2011 at 6:56 pm

This all has me wondering if the POE can be used against the hope of friendly AI + Singularity. If friendly super AI is going to happen, then it is very likely that we are living in a simulation run by a friendly AI. This sure doesn’t look like a world built by a friendly AI, what with all the pain and suffering. So friendly AI + Singularity is probably not in the cards, huh?

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mpg November 7, 2011 at 3:03 am

@Zeb:

Hmm, the Evidential Problem of Friendly AI+… Very clever, Zeb.

Coupla points though:

1. Say this world is made by a Friendly AI+, why does it only undermine the ‘Friendliness” of the AI, and not say, its programming capability?

2. Does a Friendly AI+ advocate have to support the idea that we are probably living in a world created by a Friendly AI+? (In an interview, Chalmers, who is sympathetic to the idea of the Singularity, estimated the chances that we are in a simulation at 20%).

But, hey, I like the idea of this argument regardless.

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Zeb November 7, 2011 at 10:51 am

mpg
1. So you are doubting the ‘omnipotence’ of the AI? Some theists also take that avenue ;) Personally I find it hard to believe that a computer could have the ability to make a world this complex, but lack the ability to make a world with at least a little less evil, but that’s pure intuition.
2. I don’t know, I am just going off of Bostrom’s argument and the general view of many Singularity advocates. For them I think the POE could be a problem, but I can’t say whether there is a strong link between the likelihood of Singularity and the likelihood that we are in a simulation.

I’d like to see a qualified philosopher draw this argument out, because I can’t. It just seems that given a few of the claims transhumanists often make about Singularity, simulation, and friendly AI, the suffering in this world might be strong evidence against the actuality of those three things occuring together.

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mpg November 7, 2011 at 1:03 pm

@Zeb:

In response to 1. How’s this. Let’s say the AI+ calculates probabilities. Say that in making the simulation of this universe, all the AI+ ‘knows’ is that a certain algorithm has X% chance of resulting in some kind of self-sustaining world. Maybe this is all the AI+ does, spit out ‘universe programmes’ on a probabilistic basis trying to observe the ‘best of all possible worlds’ (okay I see the problem with that last idea, but go with me). So AI+ wouldn’t need to KNOW what world it is creating, merely know the probability of a particular code to the creation of a particular world. I dunno. Call it Open AI+ ;-)

Answer to 2: Yeah, personally I don’t see that a connection between the Singularity and a ‘simulated universe’. I just don’t see how one flows from the other.

But what do I know.

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Rorschach November 7, 2011 at 4:11 pm

Zeb,

It’s closer to the former, that good is whatever God is like. And if it is possible for God to be a Nazi, then it is possible that Nazism is what is really the good

Well, im sorry, but wouldn’t that just be individual subjectvism? I’m feeling that you are failing to grasp the difference between a OBJECTIVE morality and a UNIVERSAL morality, because our moral intuitions are just false in this hypothetical scenario. And yes, i dont see a relevant difference between a totalitaristic morality based on tung
and this theistic morality. God is just more powerfull.

That to me seems like true relativism, the view that us calling something good is what makes it good

Well, i disagre. Desirism, for example, is not transposing moral intuitions into absolute facts, by the contrary, it will sometimes reach conclusions that are opposed to what our moral intuitions tell. It is not a matter of what it looks right, but a matter of what really is right, and if there is a ”right” in the first place. In that sense, i think desirism and contratarianism excels divine command theory. But i think that for a internet discussion this is going too far. I dont think that neither of us is gonna change our minds based on an internet commentary.

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Zeb November 7, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Open AI, that’s good. :) And you’ve got a theodicy, that the possibility of good sim-worlds necessitates the eventuality of suffering in some sim-worlds, but that good outweighs the evil of the suffering. Therefor none of this world’s suffering is truly gratuitous – it serves a greater good. But wouldn’t the Friendly AI be morally obligated (and practically able) to either intervene or end the simulation at the first instance of suffering in a world, so that only worlds without suffering are simulated? Of course skeptical AI-ism is an option – the Friendly AI might have good reasons to allow this suffering that we cannot know.

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Ronnie November 8, 2011 at 12:10 am

Zeb,
“To the first part of your response, could you tell me what you mean by evil?”
Sure. Any state of affairs that a good being would have many and strong reasons to inhibit, prohibit, or prevent. That will probably do as a good prototype for the category “evil”.
“As to the second part, it indeed is logically impossible for God to make a world with free moral agents and no possibility of doing evil. Morally significant
free will is defined to include the ability to choose good and/or evil. To have the ability to choose evil necessitates the possibility of choosing evil,
but it does not necessitate the actuality of choosing evil.”
That definition is certainly true in this world, because the laws of nature are such that we can choose evil. Those laws do not have to be the same in any other possible world. In other words, God could have chosen to make a world in which the facts were different in such a way that the concept “evil” forced a contradiction. Evil could have been the moral equivalent of a round square.
“I don’t know what this sentence of yours means:
“For it is not logically impossible to make a possible state of affairs impossible.”"
Rat poison is on a low table in somebody’s house. At that moment his/her small child can get to it. If the adult realizes the situation, he/she can place the hazard in a high place so that the child can’t touch it.
“What do you think is meant by godliness? To be godly is to be like God. How could God act so as to be unlike God? Whatever he might do to be unlike himself,
that act becomes godly because God did it. It is not just logically impossible for God to reject godliness, it is semantically incoherent.”
You appear to be redefining omnipotence. The prototype is usually, “The ability to do whatever it is logically possible to do.” Not, “The ability to do whatever God can do.” As I said above, “It might
be impossible for God to reject godliness, but that is because his nature determines what he can and cannot do.”

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mpg November 8, 2011 at 3:40 am

@Zeb:

And I think that could be checkmate to you. While I think the AI+ might not intervene for fear of unintentionally making matters worse, (I think that’s a reasonable possibility), it would still be true that a Friendly AI+ could reasonably be expected to stop program if human suffering was it’s first concern. That seems to me to be a reasonable expectation. The conclusion one should draw is that it is far more likely that, if this world is a simulation, it is the product of an unFriendly AI+, or a non-Friendly AI+. And that’s the ball game…

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mpg November 8, 2011 at 3:56 am

@Zeb:

Hmm, thinking about it even more, it seems the Friendly AI+ really would have to intervene. Lets say that the Friendly AI+ makes a world. Let’s say it makes a world where presentism is true. Then the Friendly AI+ brings about the first person, and for whatever reason that first person encounters suffering (or say like Adam goes against its programming and becomes malignant). Then the Friendly AI+ would be compelled, surely to intervene and stop the program, to spare the suffering of all those that are to follow? By stopping the program, it does no harm to the other people who could exist since, as this is a presentist world, they don’t exist, and therefore it would have no obligation of friendliness to them. Further, by stopping the program it would end the suffering, or potential suffering of the first person made.

Nah, I think that one shouldn’t conclude that this world is made by a Friendly AI+. Checkmate indeed.

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