Seven Reasons to be Godless (part 2)

by Luke Muehlhauser on December 8, 2009 in Reviews

I’m blogging my way through Sense and Goodness Without God, Richard Carrier’s handy worldview-in-a-box for atheists. (See the post index for all sections.)

Last time, we discussed Carrier’s first two reasons to be godless: (1) metaphysical naturalism is true, and (2) the religious landscape is confused and mundane.

Carrier’s third reason to be godless is:

The nature of the world is manifestly dispassionate and blind, exhibiting no value-laden behavior or message of any kind. It is like an autistic idiot savant, a marvelous machine wholly incomprehending of itself or others. This is exactly what we should expect if it was not created and governed by a benevolent deity, while it is hardly explicable on the theory that there is such a being.

Carrier calls this the teleological argument for atheism. Remember, the teleological (or “design“) argument for theism argues that the universe seems to be designed for a particular purpose, and this is evidence for God. The teleological argument for atheism argues that the universe does not seem to be designed for a particular purpose, and this is evidence against God.

Of course…

Any dumb process can exhibit a blind teleology, winnowing behaviors or outcomes away, leaving only those few that satisfy the particular criteria of survival.

In contrast, even a coldhearted superintelligence would not be so stupid as to take billions of years of meandering and disastrously catastrophic trial and error to figure out how to make a human. It would just make humans.

The dumb and indifferent nature of the universe does not point to the existence of a benevolent superintelligence. It points to his absence.

Carrier’s fourth reason to be godless is that most god-concepts are illogical.

To be clear, Carrier does not accept lame objections like “If God is all-powerful, can he make a rock so big even he can’t life it?” Such objections are easily avoided by clarifying one’s theology. For example, believers would define omnipotence as “being able to do whatever it is possible to do,” and thus avoid the paradox of the rock.

But in some cases, an objection is raised such that avoiding it would require denying some central beliefs about God.

Here is one of Carrier’s examples:

…it is obvious that a perfect being, by any definition, could not and would not create an imperfect universe, yet the universe is imperfect, therefore God cannot be perfect.

And here, as throughout the book, the reader may wish that Carrier would expand his arguments. But this is a very short book and Carrier rushes through almost every subject. He does not prevent clear, 5-point arguments for his claims concerning knowledge, words, propositions, warrant, free will, universals, or anything else. It’s not that kind of book, and that’s not the audience he has in mind. If you want to see impossibility arguments developed in more detail, see The Impossibility of God, which I named one of the best atheism books of the decade.

Carrier’s fifth reason to be godless is a familiar one: too much needless cruelty and misery.

The degree of violence, injustice, and cruelty to be found in our world makes perfect sense if the universe doesn’t give a damn about us or even itself. But it doesn’t make much sense at all if you think an all-powerful, all-loving God is in charge of things. For more detail, see my series on The Problem of Evil.

Carrier’s sixth reason to be godless follows from the fifth: not enough good from God.

…not only should there be less pointless suffering if there is a God, there should be more benefits from such a God as well. Yet there are none. God is supposed to be your… shepherd, a father, a mother, a friend. Yet he does none of the things such people do… After all, it is only “by their fruits that ye may know them.” …And unless God is tied up and stuck in a box somewhere… he would surely make a regular appearance in our lives, well beyond the vague emotional illusions and contradictory revelations people claim to be from God.

…As a friend, I would think it is shameful if I didn’t give clear, honest advice to my friends when asked, or offer comfort when they are in misery or misfortune… A man who calls himself a friend but who never speaks plainly to you and is never around when you need him is no friend at all.

…Likewise, as a loving parent, I would think it is a horrible failure on my part if I didn’t educate my children well, and supervise them kindly… it would seem unconscionable to ignore them, to offer them no comfort or protection or advice. Indeed, society would deem me fit for prison if I did. It would be felony criminal neglect. Yet that is God. An absentee mom, who lets kids get kidnapped and murdered or run over by cars, who does nothing to teach them what they need to know, who never sits down like a loving parent to have an honest chat with them, who would let them starve if someone else didn’t intervene.

In my next post, I’ll discuss Carrier’s final reason to be godless.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Reginald Selkirk December 8, 2009 at 10:44 am

Reason #8: Just for the hell of it.

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Rups900 December 8, 2009 at 10:59 am

Hey Luke,

I hope this isn’t off topic, but you say,

“To be clear, Carrier does not accept lame objections like “If God is all-powerful, can he make a rock so big even he can’t life it?” Such objections are easily avoided by clarifying one’s theology. For example, believers would define omnipotence as “being able to do whatever it is possible to do,” and thus avoid the paradox of the rock.”

and then,
“If you want to see impossibility arguments developed in more detail, see The Impossibility of God, which I named one of the best atheism books of the decade.”

I just wanted to point out that two of the entries in The Impossibility of God (pp. 330-348) are J. L. Cowan’s:

The Paradox of Omnipotence, Analysis, Vol. 25, Supplement 3 (Jan., 1965), pp. 102-108

and

The Paradox of Omnipotence Revisited, Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 3, No. 3 (March, 1974), pp. 435-45

which I’m pretty sure (I have not read them for a few years) formalize the structure of the lifting argument – finding it sound – and respond to objections.

Obviously there will have been responses to these old papers but thought it would be worth pointing out that the rock argument actually receives a detailed analysis in formal logic in that very book.

Cheers

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Haukur December 8, 2009 at 1:16 pm

A part of what Carrier is saying here is more an attack on pantheism than on theism. I guess that means I should respond, so here goes:

Reality is not at all like a machine – i.e. a predictable thing we can design, control and understand. Outside of the laboratory, reality is “complicated, subtle, familiar, and yet unpredictable”, to borrow a phrase from Deacon Duncan. It’s sort of like a person but an extraordinarily powerful person, a goddess.

There’s a lot more to it than that but I’m not going to try to squeeze a whole debate on pantheism vs. atheism into one comment.

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Ben December 8, 2009 at 10:13 pm

And then theists get to try to define a loving God in terms of a God who does not love. Oh well. Lame theory.

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Roman December 10, 2009 at 3:55 am

Hi Rups900,

Yep, I’ve also read some pretty complicated and detailed presentations of the paradox of omnipotence (with the rock) both by Mavrodes and Nagasawa. So “If God is all-powerful, can he make a rock so big even he can’t lift it?” isn’t a lame objection – it can be made into a serious and hard to answer argument.

For a bit of an overview of some of the debate around the paradox, look here http://www.yujinnagasawa.com/resources/anything.pdf

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Roman December 10, 2009 at 4:03 am

A quick answer to the following response to the paradox:

“define omnipotence as “being able to do whatever it is possible to do,” and thus avoid the paradox of the rock.”

For this response to work, theist would have to assume that God is omnipotent, and that therefore it is an impossible task for him to do.

However, the conclusion of the argument is that “God is not omnipotent.” So for the theist to assume that God is omnipotent is to beg the question against the argument, and hence is a very bad response.

Or if the conclusion of the argument is “Omnipotence is impossible”, then the theist’s answer can’t assume that God is omnipotent. This is question begging.

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