Saturday, August 25, 2007

An Argument for Atheism

I shall, in this post, take atheism to be the belief that there is (probably) no God, where God will be defined to be an omniscient and omnipotent being that is also totally good (much as Richard defines Him), and I shall argue (as I did briefly in a comment on this post of Richard's) that such a God is (probably) impossible. There are of course other definitions, e.g. atheism is sometimes regarded as the absence of a belief in God, so that it would include both atheism (as defined above) and agnosticism (the absence of a belief either way, which includes the belief that knowledge either way is impossible, which is another definition of agnosticism), and God is sometimes defined to be the Creator of this Universe.
......Such a Creator would know (more or less) all that could be known about this Universe, just as an author would know all about her story, or a painter all about his painting; and similarly, such a Creator would have (more or less) complete power over this Universe. So, it may have been that God was originally defined to be the Creator, and that it was then deduced that such a God would be all knowing and all powerful in that sense (which is, after all, the sense that concerns us, as beings within this Universe), and that such properties only then became definitive, e.g. through their apparent utility—certainly many arguments (as in that linked post) do begin by defining God to be infinitely perfect (rather than the Creator). So, I’ll now argue that such a God, which I’ll refer to as ‘He,’ is (probably) impossible.
......My argument is primarily concerned with omniscience, with God knowing absolutely everything. Not only does He know everything about His Creation (as any Creator would), He also knows whether or not there are, for example, other Gods. If there are any, He knows everything that they know, including precisely what it is like to be them (which might imply that there is only one God), and if not then He knows how he knows that there are not. But it is quite inconceivable how he could know that there are not any other Gods (either at all, or beyond those that He does know all about). The problem is not so much with the “omni,” but with the “science.” It would of course not follow, from some conjectured infinitude having inconceivable properties, that it did not exist; but the concept of knowledge is the concept of true beliefs that are in some way tied down to (or that in some reliable way arise from) the things known about, and we are here considering one being’s knowledge of the non-existence of other similar beings, where there might well be absolutely no connection between them.
......Ironically this problem (for this fairly common kind of theism) resembles a fairly common reply to atheists, who are told that while they might obtain a justified belief that there was a God by His revealing Himself to them, they could hardly obtain scientific knowledge that there was not a God (not even in Heaven) just by failing to have had such a revelation. Imagine (for an analogy) completely separate spacetimes with absolutely no causal connections between them—how could any being, in one of them, know anything about what was going on in the others, or even whether or not there were any others? Similarly, even were there only one spacetime, and a being within it had that true belief, how could that belief be justified?
......By hypothesis God would know that He knew everything, and He would also know how he knew that there were no other Gods (beyond any He might know about more directly, via informative connections), but how could that be? Could He have deduced that fact from His knowledge of His own omniscience? But how could He not then know that such circular justification would not make His belief (that there were no other Gods) knowledge? It is all very well for us to define God to be omniscient, because we can then ask whether or not God exists, but God could hardly do that! In short, the concept of omniscience (in this strict, absolute sense) seems to be self-contradictory. It seems to be, but it may not be, but as there seems to be little logical room for manoeuvre, I regard that conclusion as at least very likely (and not necessarily inconvenient for the theist, as I mentioned here).
......Regarding omnipotence, if God has the power to do absolutely anything, then could He make 2 plus 2 equal 5? If not then it again seems that we cannot interpret His definition in such a strict way after all. And of course, God would not get any less implausible were combinations considered, such as omniscience and (via free will) responsibility, together with omnipotence and (via this Universe existing, whether or not God created it) evil. After all, if God knows what we are going to do, and if He could have stopped us but did not, then, given that He is good, it seems that whatever we do must also be good, or at least (since we are only human) good enough (in what might have to be the best of all possible worlds), which seems unlikely.

10 comments:

Tanasije Gjorgoski said...

Hi Enigman,

I would say that there is knowledge without certitude, which covers for example knowledge of facts that we have, and also knowledge through understanding.
The knowledge through understanding is, I think, idealistic notion. It assumes that there is reason why everything is as it is, and knowledge through understanding, is a knowledge through full awareness of those reasons. Now, we usually can't claim any such understanding, probably even of our actions, but if talking about omniscient being, I'm inclined to say that this is the kind of knowledge such being would possess.
So, in this knowledge, the fact is not known in isolation, but in its inter-relatedness to every other fact there is.

You raise the issue of completely separate spacetimes with absolutely no casual connections, but that assumes that "being", "space", "time" are fundamental things, which are independent from anything else. I think that is begging the question in the case of God. If God is the ground, God would be The Ground of the being of everything there is, including any space and time, and including *the very possibility* of being, space and time. The "being of God" or "being of other Gods" is then a question that misses the issue that God is ground for being, and hence its own being is incidental. Being of God is not a contingent fact.

Of course knowing all the relations of the facts, and how those facts are grounded in other things, God would know through understanding why he is the only God (or if he is the only God).

Hope this made sense.

Tanasije Gjorgoski said...

Regarding the issue of omnipotence...
I think it is senseless to ask if God can do what is impossible. What is impossible by definition can't be done. God can't make when there is two things, there not to be one and one more thing. He can't make a stone he cannot lift. Those are analytically impossible things.

I would even claim that whatever God does won't break actual physical laws. I'm rationalist about those, I think they are in fact metaphysical necessities, so I think breaking actual physical laws is impossible,

But even if those metaphysical truths can't be broken, what is left is the realm of what is logically and metaphysically possible, and I think the question of omnipotence is about can one do everything that is logically and metaphysically possible.

Enigman said...

Hi, thanks for that Tanasije, although I doubt if I understood much of it. You say that God would be the ground of the being of everything there is, and that God would know the reasons for everything. So God is, amongst other things, one who knows stuff, and so He would have some sort of being.

He would understand completely the things dependent upon Him, but my worry is that logically He could not know that there were not other things, independent of Him. Whether or not they existed, they would not figure in His understanding of everything that depends upon Him.

It just does not seem to be possible for an understanding of how some things fit together perfectly, so that there need be nothing more than them, could amount to knowledge that there is in fact nothing else.

Tanasije Gjorgoski said...

Enigman,

My point is not just that it would be the ground of everything that is, but even the ground of the being itself!
So, the being is not something incidental, which comes "outside" of the God, so that his existence is something contingent. The *being itself* in this view is grounded in God, and is in the interrelation with everything else.

Did this make more sense?

Enigman said...

Maybe, I'm still unsure; but incidentally, my talk of spacetimes was only an analogy (as I've now said in parentheses in the post). Are you saying that God's existence is necessary, and that God knows all about why it's necessary? But I'm wondering how God could know that His uniqueness was necessary. It seems that that question must be a matter of contingency, rather than definition.

Enigman said...

...or rather, since 'contingency' is the wrong word, suppose that God exists necessarily, and that He understands everything about His existence (why it is necessary etc.) still, nothing in that Self-understanding, it seems to me, could inform Him as to whether or not there were other, similarly necessarily existing, Gods. I can see that He could know that He did not have (or rather, did not need) a creator Himself, and hence that the existence or non-existence of those other Gods would (similarly) not be a matter of contingency, but how could He know whether or not They existed?

How could a perfect understanding of His own necessary existence tell Him about that, especially since the way He is does (seem to) involve some matters of contingency, such as His creation of precisely these physical objects (around us); how could He know that there were not other Gods, existing necessarily but varying from Him in some ways? Maybe He could have the true belief that there were not any others, but for Him to know that He knew that surely He would need something more than the true belief that he had all and only the true beliefs.

Enigman said...

Regarding omnipotence, I agree that even an omnipotent God would not have to do undefined or impossible things (no more than an omniscient God would have to know nonsense or falsehoods (which cropped up in Richard's post))... but where is the proof that no God created logic and maths as we know them?

Tanasije Gjorgoski said...

Hi Enigman,

Sorry for being late with the answer, was busy those days, and forgot to check the thread...

You ask:
Are you saying that God's existence is necessary, and that God knows all about why it's necessary?

Not just that. But let me first play with this idea...We can imagine some meta-God-verse, where it would be fact if God exists, and really if one or more of them exist. But if the existence of God is not a contingent fact, God being omniscient would understand *why* he exists. And to understand this why, God would have to know about meta-God-verse, and the reasons how in this meta-God-verse his existence is grounded - will have to know the 'rules' of coming into being.


Having said that...
What I'm actually saying is that if we are to suppose God, the existence is not to be seen as external from God. Any existence would be within God, and grounded in God. It seems now to me that even "why God exist?" would be nonsense question for God, as there can't be any further ground which is not God, and which would be ground for God's existence!

Enigman said...

Thanks for the clarification tanasije, and I'm now almost persuaded that you're right; but only almost. Even with God knowing all about how and why He exists (in the way He does, e.g. necessarily), He would also, for Him to be omniscient (in this strict way), need to know all about the necessary non-existence (in every other possible way) of anything else, and it just does not seem to me to be at all plausible that the latter could follow from (as part of) the former. Cf. how, even without the need for an anthropic explanation of anything unlikely in this Universe, the existence (in their own way) of other Universes would be just as possible (if less necessary).

Enigman said...

(incidentally, this was cross-posted here:)