Today I interview philosopher Eric Steinhart. Among other things, we discuss:
- Dawkins’ central argument in The God Delusion
- Neo-Platonic theology vs. Biblical theology
Download CPBD episode 062 with Eric Steinhart. Total time is 44:59.
Links for things we discussed:
- Dawkins, The God Delusion
- Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument
- Aquinas’ “Five Ways“
- Lee Smolin
- Nick Bostrom
- Peter van Inwagen
- Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, Daniel Dennett
- Maitzen, “Anselmian Atheism“
- Paul Tillich
- Greg Boyd, Myth of a Christian Nation
- John Hick
- Hugh Everett
- John Leslie
- Leibniz, “On the Radical Origination of Things“
Luke: Dr. Eric Steinhart is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at William Patterson University in New Jersey. He works mostly in metaphysics and also on the analytical and logical tools used by philosophers, and has recently taken an interest in philosophy of religion as well. Eric, welcome to the show.
Eric: Glad to be here, Luke.
Luke: Eric, in “The God Delusion” Richard Dawkins agrees with theists that there must be a first cause, but he thinks it makes no sense to think it would be something as complex as God. Rather, he says, the first cause must be something ultimately simple, and science may discover it one day. What do you think of all of that?
Eric: I think that it’s very interesting how Richard Dawkins believes that science is really able to address the questions that religionists once thought they could only address through divine revelation or through studying holy books or something like that.
Of course, Dawkins tells us that evolution can tell us about the origins of life and the nature of life. We don’t need a divine creator God of Genesis, or something like that to do that. And that science can answer all sorts of questions about the past of the universe, about it’s future, about what goes on. And it’s all governed by law, by natural law. And that law is independent. It’s objective. It’s transcendental. It’s formal, logical, precise, necessary and impersonal.
And if you follow out the laws, the scientific method gives us the ability to understand these laws because we’re rational creatures. You don’t see God anywhere. Now cosmologists tell us about the Big Bang and things like that. And so, Dawkins says, “OK. That’s what science tells us.” But then in “The God Delusion, ” he’s recording various conversations. People say, “Well, why is there something rather than nothing?” And he says, “Well, OK. There has to be some kind of first cause.”
Now I don’t think he agrees with the theists that it’s going to be a first cause like they want from, for instance, William Lane Craig wants with his Kalam cosmological argument. It’s not a first cause like you’d find in Aquinas’ first or second arguments for the existence of God.
But that there’s got to be some sort of self-boot-strapping kind of crane rather than, to use Dennett’s word, rather than a ‘skyhook.’ In other words, something that starts off. And he suggests it could be an evolutionary kind of process.
This is where Dawkins gets into some interesting cosmology. He turns, for instance, to the work of Lee Smolin — physicist, cosmologist — who says, maybe there’s super cosmic evolution, that universes sort of breed other universes or give birth to other universes. And in the space of possible universes, we have an evolution of actuality. And that brings, eventually, our universe into existence through a kind of process that then naturally explains, for instance, the fine-tuning of our universe for life and complexity.
And so, whatever this is, it’s interesting too to think of things John Leslie has said in this context. Leslie talks about what he calls ‘axiarchic’ principles, which are principles that say goodness is ontologically productive — goodness brings things into being. And this is just abstract. Goodness isn’t a god or a deity. It’s just sort of an ethical principle written into the nature of possibility itself, almost like Plato’s Form of the Good.
And so, it’s interesting to see Dawkins, at some of these points, bring in an enormous amount of metaphysics, possible universes. If you’re thinking about laws of super cosmic evolution, those are natural laws, but they’re laws operating on an enormous scale. So it’s interesting that science, in his view, has the power to talk about that kind of metaphysics.
And in that way, I think the new atheists differ from say, old atheists. Dawkins is willing to entertain and enter into metaphysical speculation about the origins of the universe, the origins of all universes, the origin of actuality. And that gives, I think, Dawkins and in some other cases the new atheists an enormous amount of explanatory power that old atheisms didn’t have. That’s very deep. I think that deserves a lot more exploration within the atheistic community, so to speak.
Luke: And I think Dawkins point there is that if there’s got to be this first cause for everything, then it makes the most sense for it to follow the pattern of scientific discovery and be something just really simple and profoundly explanatory in very specific scientific ways rather than saying, “Well, the first cause must be this enormously complex thing who’s a personal being with desires and intentions and who engages in personal relationships and political struggles and has knowledge in a mind,” and all this kind of thing. To start from that, just seems like you’re starting with a ‘skyhook’ kind of thing rather than a buildup from some very simple principle. Is that part of what you find intriguing about Dawkins’ line of thought?
Eric: Yeah. I think Dawkins, time and time again from his studies of biological evolution, and I think he’s entirely right about this, is to say that the complex emerges from the simple. And it may not even be, one of the things that we might have to watch out for, is it might not be a simple ‘it’ that’s behind the answer to the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” It may just be like you just said, very straightforward and simple principles or natural laws that make it logically required that there be something rather than nothing.
But it’s nice to see that Dawkins says things like, “Maybe you find out that there were things that were…” He talks about two instances. There could be superhuman aliens, and we discover that there are these extraterrestrials. And nevertheless, even if they were super-human with superhuman technologies and powers, they would still fall under the laws of nature.
He also at one point in “The God Delusion,” actually a couple points, brings up the possibility that we’re living in a computer simulation. And Nick Bostrom and other people have talked about this kind of idea. And if we were, the simulators might look very much like the gods of traditional theisms, but they would still be entirely natural beings that came into existence through evolutionary processes. They wouldn’t be supernatural. And their complexity would be evolved. So I think Dawkins is always saying that the complex comes from the simple and that theists have got it really backwards. On this point, I think he’s entirely correct.
Luke: Now, you brought up Smolin’s cosmological theory. And I really find that an interesting example, because here is a sort of first-cause type of theory that can be placed to compete with God as a first-cause theory, and yet Smolin is a scientist, and so he actually develops mathematical models for his theory, and he can make specific predictions about what we should observe because of the mathematics of his model.
For example, if his theory of cosmological natural selection is correct, we should observe that when we smash big atoms together, the resulting ratios of particles should be the same as what we think came out of the Big Bang. And if his theory is correct, then inflation must be a single-field, single-parameter inflation. If his theory is correct, there should be very little early star formation in our universe. If his theory is correct, the universe should be extremely suitable to black holes.
And all those, in fact, turn out to be true, and they’re very specific predictions that result from the mathematics of his theory. Whereas, when you look at the “God did it” theory, there’s just nothing that comes out of that.
And so, the prospect of a scientific first-cause theory is very exciting to me because we could actually test these things and compare them, whereas “God did it, ” the way it’s usually formatted, gives us no information at all.
Eric: I think that’s correct. I think that what you mentioned that’s very interesting, Luke, is the mathematical aspect of it. And, in a certain sense, that’s really deeper than even saying anything about observability or empirical testability, because mathematics really should be able to cover anything that’s consistently definable.
And what really is striking, if one were a theist, like, say, William Lane Craig, who is so deeply interested in these kinds of cosmological arguments, you might expect someone like that to be able to say, “I can give you equations. I can give you axioms. I can give you a mathematical model of how God does it.” Now, maybe this is beyond what our empirical science will ever be able to tell us. There are limits to observation and things like that. Nevertheless, you would expect the theists to be able to provide some kind of mathematics, because math isn’t limited by observation. Right?
I mean, the mathematical equations could describe things that are far beyond observation, things either we can’t observe in principle or in practice. And yet, theists don’t even do that.
That’s one of the things that is really striking to me, because a mathematician can develop a theory of things. You can develop mathematical theories of other possible universes, of other possible structures, of alternative physics, of trans-finite computers. Math has no limits except for what’s consistently definable.
And so, why not a mathematical theory of divine creation? That no one has ever even tried that, that’s what, to me, suggests that theistic explanations for the existence of our universe are really bankrupt. Where is the theory?
Luke: And it does seem additionally strange to me that if the “God did it” hypothesis is supposed to involve a being that is necessary and necessarily holds the properties that it does, then that seems like it would be very amenable to math. If all of these properties are necessarily their conditions, I don’t even know what it means to say that he’s a person then, but if we go with the kind of Medieval, perfect-being theology that some people prefer, then it seems like you could provide a very clean mathematical concept of a being that necessarily has all the properties that it does.
Eric: Yeah, I think you touched on a really interesting issue there, Luke. The issue is in fact I think a very deep conflict that’s going on in philosophy of religion today. It’s a deep conflict I think within the Christian tradition, which is really a conflict between what’s really a Neoplatonic theology and a Biblical theology.
The Neoplatonic theology is really the God of the philosophers or the religion of the philosophers. It’s about a necessary being, a maximally perfect being, a being that transcends space and time. One might say that being exists or not. But whatever that being is, it ain’t the God of the Bible.
Eric: The God of the Bible is like Zeus, right? He walks on the vault of the heavens. He talks in the garden with Adam and Eve. He opens the sky and makes a flood. He slaughters the Amalekites. He blows on the Red Sea and…
Luke: He throws rocks from the sky at a fleeing army. He turns people into salt. He changes his mind. He’s morally persuaded. He apologizes for doing evil…
Eric: Peter van Inwagen, a philosopher of religion and metaphysics, says at one point — philosophers draw distinctions between concrete and abstract beings. And abstract beings are like numbers. They’re necessary. They’re eternal. They’re outside of space and time. They don’t causally interact with any physical things. Whereas concrete things are in space and time, and they causally interact with physical things in space and time.
He gives a list. He says, “Here’s a list of things that, if they exist, are concrete.” He says, “Cabbages and kings, bits of sealing wax, angels, ghosts, and God.” And you want to say, “Wow!” Tillich says we can’t make God a thing among things.
And here you’ve got Van Inwagen’s essentially an evangelical philosopher. So you’ve got this guy saying, “No, God is just like cabbage. He’s certainly more powerful, but it’s the same kind of thing as a bit of sealing wax.”
You’ve got to say, “That God, if it exists at all, is just another thing among things in the natural order.” So people like Stenger and Dawkins are entirely right in saying the existence of that God is totally up to science. If science doesn’t show us that that thing exists, it doesn’t. Because science can tell us about cabbage and about bits of sealing wax and things like that.
That’s the evangelical Biblical God, Yahweh or El Elyon, just the Canaanite sky God — that concrete thing would be governed by the laws of nature. It would be governed by the laws of mathematics. Whereas the Neoplatonic God, which we just mentioned, yeah, that God is a necessary being who might be very amenable to mathematical treatments.
In fact, you could maybe even work out axiomatic systems about goodness and productivity of possibilities and universes. You could do a whole metaphysics, right? But that ain’t the God of the Bible. If we want to talk about developing Neoplatonic theologies, I love that. That’s a small business enterprise of mine, but it’s certainly not Christian theology.
Now you find a tension where a lot of these Christian philosophers will go back and forth. When they’re in a bind, they’ll suddenly become Neoplatonists. But as soon as they can get out of that, then they’re back to the Bible.
Luke: When they’re talking to atheists, they’ll become Neoplatonists so that they can offer really abstract cosmological-type arguments. Then when they’re talking to believers, they’ll talk about Yahweh.
Eric: That’s right, and I think one of the places you find that happening most, the bait and switch, is if you look at discussions of the ontological argument, either in Plantinga or William Lane Craig. Thinking about it, I think Dennett talks about it very nicely.
God is supposed to be a maximally perfect being, that than which no greater is possible. Dennett says, “I have no problem with that. Sure, why not? That could be anything, or it can be constrained by various kinds of concepts of maximality.”
I wrote a paper in religious studies where I said that one way to interpret maximally perfect being is to say that it’s the universe of set theory. There’s nothing more inclusive. It includes all possibilities and actualities from a mathematical perspective.
So, you could say that the maximally perfect being is the best of all possible worlds, if there is such a thing. I mean, surely, that contains all moral perfections. It contains every — all positive potentials are realized of all possible beings, or whatever.
The strange thing is, you’ll see theists start with that formula of, “God is that then which no greater is possible, the maximally perfect being.” And then, they’ll say, “See, it’s got to exist. It’s possible; therefore it’s necessary; therefore it exists. And, oh, by the way, it’s the God of the Bible.”
Eric: That’s an extremely weak point, I think, in the theistic arguments. I think that, for instance, atheists could use the ontological argument to great effect. I think all too often atheists say they want to just dismiss all these theistic arguments.
See, in my mind, it’s more interesting as a problem in philosophy of religion. Maybe I should say philosophy of atheism. I’m very interested in the philosophy of atheism.
Say, “Look at those arguments.” You talked about the first cause arguments, right? I mean, look at the arguments in Aquinas, the “First” and “Second Way, ” or perhaps more interestingly, the “Third Way.”
Aquinas is a sharp guy. Aquinas is a smart guy, and in none of those arguments does he ever say, “Oh, and this proves God.” At the end of every one of those arguments, he says, “This is what men call God, or this is what they refer to as God.” He gives himself some wiggle room.
That’s interesting, because one might really say, “Oh, I’m an atheist, I love Aquinas’ ‘Third Way, ‘ because it proves that there’s some necessary ground of being that’s completely impersonal. The ‘Third Way’ proves that the God of the Bible does not exist.” That would be an interesting atheistic argument.
Or, to take the ontological argument and say, “Wow, the logic of the ontological argument, maybe we could fight over that. Is it valid? Is it sound? But, let’s not fight over it; let’s agree. Let’s agree that the logic is valid and the argument is sound. So, that there does, in fact, exist a maximally perfect being, but it’s not God.”
We could go back to the Old Testament and look at all the horrible things that God does and say, “He ain’t maximally perfect.” So, whatever that thing is, it’s not God. That, I think, is an intriguing line of research for atheists to get into.
Rather than just attacking those arguments and saying, “Oh, they’re bad arguments, ” why not say, “When we look at the argument, whatever you pull out of that hat, it isn’t the theistic deity.”
Luke: Steve Maitzen has an article called “Anselmian Atheism, ” where he argues much as you hinted at just now. That if we take [laughs] Anselm’s notion of God seriously, the being than which none greater can be conceived, then that implies a most radical kind of mysticism because that being is completely beyond anything that we can conceive of and certainly beyond the Biblical Yahweh.
So really that’s pretty much atheism if that argument succeeds. But I do want to go back to what you were talking about with van Inwagen and him putting God in the class of concrete objects. I think what he seems to be doing there is just endorsing the Christian notion of God rather than the Platonic one.
So he’s saying, yeah, God isn’t this abstract ineffable being. Rather, God is maybe something more like the God presented in the Bible. If that’s the way he wants to argue, that’s fine. I suppose arguments are harder to construct in favor of the existence of that kind of very specific God, but at least he’s talking about the Christian God potentially.
Eric: Again it’s a real struggle, especially what we’ve seen in the United States in the last say 20 or 30 years with the emergence of evangelical Christianity which is so back to the Bible, right? I grew up in a very strong evangelical household, and that was my past. One of the benefits of that was getting an intense immersion into the Bible itself.
Luke: [laughs] I hope you didn’t actually read the thing about the part where he slaughters the Canaanites and all that kind of thing. Reading the Bible can be very devastating to faith.
Eric: I think that actually probably the thing that really took me out of theism was reading the Bible. Just saying, “Wait a minute. This God is horrible!” [laughs] But it’s been said by many people, one of the best ways to become an atheist is to read the Bible.
But back to van Inwagen I think that, yeah, he wants on the one hand to defend the existence of that God. But the existence of that God really is a scientific question.
The Biblical God, Yahweh, who has all these involvements in human affairs causally speaking, that’s a scientific question. I think science clearly shows that there is no such thing. I think it makes me really sad to think that that’s what Christianity has become. Or maybe that’s what it always was. I don’t know.
But certainly in the great Christian philosophers you find a lot of…you know, I often think sometimes they don’t really like the Bible and they think it’s maybe an embarrassment. So I don’t know. Maybe Nietzsche was right that Christianity is Platonism for the people. You scratch a Christian theologian and you get a Neoplatonic theologian.
There you just might think of Paul Tillich. He’s just a Neoplatonist as far as I can see. I don’t understand why he calls himself a Christian, so maybe he thinks Christianity is Neoplatonism. But that’s gone, at least in the United States.
That kind of liberal protestant understanding of Christianity disappeared, I think, essentially with the emergence of evangelicalism, which… I think it’s very novel. I think it’s a kind of Biblicalism in the more extreme versions of fundamentalism and dispensationalism. I think it’s something very close to Bible worship.
Today, when I think for most American Christians, God is just a kind of American God of war or God has become the nation. There was a book by a Christian pastor, Boyd.
Luke: I think you’re talking about Greg Boyd, “Myth of a Christian Nation”?
Eric: Right, so you know it. Great! Where he [laughs] just says that what evangelicalism and Christian fundamentalism have become is a worship of the nation. And that’s idolatry.
Luke: Well, he picked the Jews to bring out his mission on earth thousands of years ago, and now he’s picking America to bring his mission of democracy to the world. That’s pretty terrifying!
Eric: It is terrifying! I think it obviously has had terrifying consequences. It becomes holy violence.
And I have often thought of a thought experiment – if science discovered that there exists a supreme being, an all pervading, logical structure of reality that deserves to be called divine, and there is universal scientific agreement. And maybe it is even a divine person in some incredible sense. And that discovery proved the Bible wrong.
Then I think that the evangelicals and fundamentalists would say, no, we don’t believe the science. They would rather believe in the Bible than believe in God.
Luke: Well, Eric, you also wrote a paper on resurrection that I must say, I found pretty strange and bizarre. But in that paper you discuss -
Eric: That’s me.
Luke: [laughter] This is what you mathematicians do when you have too much free time, is that it?
Eric: No, no, no, I need more free time.
Luke: OK. Well, in that paper, you discuss naturalistic accounts of resurrection, such as one developed by John Hick. Can you tell briefly, what was Hick’s theory of resurrection and his motivation for developing it?
Eric: I think that it is always disappointing to me to hear atheists say, oh, there is no life after death, or materialism just entails that when you die, you are just dead. And I think that on one hand that is correct, and on the other hand, that is wrong.
One of the interesting things you see with somebody like Dawkins starting to talk about possible worlds, or thinking about mathematical realism, is that simply denying the theistic deity does not imply that you repudiate all metaphysics. Everybody has a metaphysics, and I think materialism is a bad one.
I am a materialist about persons. I don’t believe that there are any immaterial, supernatural, Cartesian souls. But I do not think that materialism entails, or naturalism entails that there can’t be life after death.
And what John Hick did was to take some of these issues seriously, and say, look, the resurrection of the body is an idea that doesn’t require an immaterial soul. It is a materialist idea. And it is one that could be consistent with the idea of natural law.
Now, Hick recognizes right away that resurrection is not, you know, the revival of a corpse, or something like that. I mean, that’s maybe a poetic image or something. But Hick says, look, the laws of nature in our universe, there is no resurrection of the body in our universe.
What Hick says is that we are going to be resurrected in another universe. So what he says is when you die here, a replica of your body is produced in another universe. And he says this is lawful.
Now, he believes in an abstract kind of Neoplatonic God that creates laws that span many universes. And nevertheless, he thinks it is all a matter of law. There is no miracle involved in the resurrection of the body. So he says it is a naturalistic process.
So universes are these big units of space and time, but there can be lawful connections between universes. And so when a person dies in this universe, a replica of that person is created in another universe. If you are in another universe, that process of creation would look like a natural process to you, because, in fact, it would be a natural process.
Luke: Eric, the only touch point that I have to understand what you and Hick were discussing is Hugh Everett’s theory of multiple universes. And I am thinking in particular maybe there is a case where I am about to be hit by an oncoming bus. And in the relevant quantum events right there, a parallel universe splits off. Well, many of them split off. But in many of them, I stay in that spot and I am hit by the bus and I die, and in some of them, I suddenly move out of the way at the last second.
And so I have died in some universes, but I have survived in other universes. I don’t think that is what you are talking about. But that is about the only way that I can explain to myself what you are talking about.
Eric: Right. The quantum immortality kind of theories. Nope, that is not what Hick’s view is, nor would it be mine. No, the idea is that there are many universes.
One way to think of this would be to think of the old idea of eternal recurrence. The ancient Greeks, and of course Nietzsche, said things like, look, our universe is a structure, and it gets repeated, and everything is going to be repeated. And the repetition will be exact.
You know, maybe there was a big bang, and then our universe unfolds, and then there is going to be a big crunch. And that will lead to another big bang, and another reproduction of our universe. An exact reproduction.
You know, that’s one way of caching out the notion of the eternal return. It is probably false, but this is just an image. So after our universe ceases to exist, another universe exactly like it will come into being.
And in that next universe, another replica of you is exactly going to come into being. And since everything is exact, right, that other replica is going to lead your same life. Right? From birth, your mother and father are going to be there, George Bush…
Luke: God, not Bush again.
Eric: Again and again. Eternal return is a bad theory. It is just an image. You are going to be replicated. Hick says something like this.
This is the direction that I develop it, is to say, look, the laws of nature aren’t going to be the same in every cycle, as it were. They get better. Things get improved.
So your life will be a little bit better on each cycle. A little bit longer, a little bit richer. Politics will be a little more just.
Luke: George Bush won’t be elected the next time around.
Eric: Or, he will be a better guy. You know, it could go that way, right? It is an optimistic theory.
Luke: Alright. How does stuff get better? I would understand maybe if in the next evolution of the universe, the speed of light was a little bit faster, and so the end result would be that civilizations throughout the galaxy are actually able to contact each other or something. But how would things get better in terms of a little bit more happiness in people’s lives, or something like that?
Eric: Good question. Think about it this way – an argument might be, consider the people who said things like, our universe is finely tuned for life, right? And they say the best explanation for that is the existence of a designer God who is in the back fiddling with the knobs.
Well, an alternative explanation is similar to the one given by Lee Smolin. But I wouldn’t want to endorse or not endorse Smolin’s particular ideas. It is just to say there is an evolutionary process, whereby there are possible universes.
Our universe has many possibilities. And one possibility is that there is another universe that is very much like ours, except that our lives are better. So what makes any possibility actual?
Why is our universe actual, rather than a universe that is completely devoid of life? And some people say, well, all universes are actual. OK. And we just happen to be able to be in one where we can actually observe things.
So that is why we see the universe we do – an anthropic kind of explanation. But, think about the kind of things Dawkins has said about a self-bootstrapping process of actuality.
He seems to portray, and his suggestion is, you start out, say, with simpler universes, and they must be actualizing more and more complex universes. That is what evolution does.
And so why not focus that a little bit and say well, what qualities are getting maximized or optimized in this kind of evolutionary process? And Hicks suggests that it is qualities related to ethical value.
And again, that doesn’t mean pleasure, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you will just be smiling more, right? But it is to suggest that life will be able to flourish more intensely.
I haven’t given you an argument for why that should be the case. Maybe I have said that that is a better explanation of why our universe is finely tuned for life than the theistic designer explanation. It is an explanation that parallels evolutionary explanations.
Luke: And I can’t even think of what it would mean for a universe to be selected for ethical quality. [laughs] This is a pretty bizarre idea for me.
Eric: So why out of all the possible universes that could be actual, is this one actual? You know, Liebniz famously said, because it is the best. He says God selects it.
Now, somebody might object to that and say, well, God could have used other principles, right? God could have gone through his possible universes and selected the one that has the most stars or something.
Anyway, Liebniz says it is an ethical principle. A principle of values that God uses. You know, one way to respond to that is to say, fine.
It is an ethical principle that decides which possible universes are actual. We just don’t need a God. This could just be a law of nature just like any natural law. We don’t need a God to enforce the law of gravity.
And so we don’t need a God to enforce, say, ethical laws that are used to select which possible universes get to be actual. Now that is actually what John Leslie says.
And, in fact, Liebniz himself applied that very same logic in a paper called “On the Radical Origination of Nature” where he says possibilities themselves have a natural tendency to actuality. And the tendency is proportionate to their perfection.
And he writes this up, and a couple of his friends look at this. And they say,you better change this, because this looks like a radically atheistic theory of creation.
Luke: Because then we don’t need God.
Eric: We don’t need God at all. Literally, he says this. Every possibility has a natural tendency to actuality. And the tendencies are in proportion to the perfections of the possibilities.
And it almost looks in one place in this article – he gives you a deduction, a proof of the existence of God from this. He says the maximally perfect system of possibilities, a maximally perfect being, and that’s God.
And therefore the natural tendencies of possibilities produce God. And his friends look at this and say, dude, you are so gonna get burned at the stake. First you’re saying that universe can emerge in a natural process, and now even God emerges as the result of a natural process?
And he modifies this, then. He adds a couple of paragraphs. He says, all I’m describing is an ideal process in the divine mind. After there are complaints like, this really is the radical origination of nature. It is radical in the sense that there is no deity behind it.
So why not adopt that point of view and just say, look, out of all the possible universes, why is any universe actual? And why does the actual universe have any of the features that it does have?
You could either say, because there is a wonderful God behind it all who selects this best of all possible universes and makes it actual, or whatever principle you think God is using is just a law of nature too.
Luke: That is a simpler theory.
Eric: It is a simpler theory.
Luke: You just remove one large ad hoc hypothesis.
Eric: And it is a hypothesis that really is irrelevant. And think about what somebody like Dawkins is saying when you talked about earlier when we started with a simple first cause or a simple first principle.
I mean, one may have something like just a self-bootstrapping process here where there are qualities. You could even think of, if some people don’t like the value language, because they think it is too anthropocentric or something – you could think of something like maximizing the amount of information processing going on in the universe.
Eric: You know, that would, in fact, lead to lots of ethical maxima. You are going to have more computing going on in the universe, you are going to need more and more computers that are better and better harmonized with one another. And that is us. There you go.
Luke: Now, I think a lot of people are going to protest that we wouldn’t call that resurrection, because there is no continuance of consciousness between the two. I am not going to be able to remember myself from the previous universe.
Eric: Well, that is not resurrection. I mean, resurrection requires that you die. Resurrection theories don’t involve any continuity of consciousness. I mean, when you die, you are dead, and your consciousness stops. Right?
Resurrection theories aren’t reincarnation theories, where there is some Cartesian soul that keeps on thinking after you are dead, and then gets stuck in another body. That is reincarnation.
Luke: Eric, what kinds of problems in philosophy of religion do you think are fruitless or irrelevant, and which problems in philosophy of religion do you think are really interesting?
Eric: A lot of what I think is sort of fruitless is starting in philosophy of religion today, I think is the constant beating a lot of dead horses, particularly the old theistic arguments. You know, are they good, are they bad? God, the gallons of ink spilled there.
What I would like to see more of? I gave you some examples of using old theistic arguments to new ends that are essentially atheistic purposes. And I am seeing atheists start to see that they can adapt religious language.
So there are people on the Internet talking about the atheist gospel and atheistic evangelism. I think that there is a real serious concept of atheistic piety and atheistic reverence. Which, it is not theistic, and it doesn’t involve any God.
And I would like to see there be a philosophy of atheism. One that really works on the metaphysics of it, the ethics of it, and really tries to construct an affirmative and positive alternative to theism. So that is what I think would be the most interesting system of problems to work out.
Luke: That is certainly one of my interests as well. Eric, it has been a pleasure speaking with you. Thanks for coming on the show.
Eric: Alright, well, Luke, thanks for having me. It has been great.