Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Theodolite Theodicy

Naturalism and Monotheism compete, but both remain reasonable (explanations of our observations) because a satisfying account of why a good God would allow the evils of this world seems about as likely as a satisfying reduction of our minds to matter (given how much we now know of the evils of this world, and its physics). Nonetheless a perfect person is quite likely, a priori (it being good that good exists), and such a perfectly sapient being would know perfectly well that s/he could not know so infallibly that people similar to he/r, of which s/he was unaware, did not exist.
......Consequently s/he would probably exist everlastingly (rather than timelessly) because not only is s/he a person, being able to increase he/r knowledge (and to try to be sociable) would be good. And since deities obscure to a deity would probably be hard to find, hence as part of he/r investigations into the possibility of other deities s/he would probably create people like us—sapient and imaginative (and innately ignorant) creatures with an innate desire for contact with their creator (or at least for a better world) but who live socially (and of course dream) within a world apart from its creator (operating as a rule via the most elegant natural laws that could support such people, rather than via supernatural interventions)—because to do so would be to deploy a certain sensitivity to the existence of any deity.
......My theodicy (already blogged about in May and September) is based upon the fact that, were that the motivation for our creation, our souls would probably (God being good) have been created in a better place and invited to volunteer for this. A nice consequence is that it is similarly likely that our souls will return there automatically upon our deaths; and my hypothesis also has nice scientific consequences (e.g. it indicates where evidence about the mind-brain interaction is likely to be found) and nice social consequences (e.g. religious plurality is probably the divine will).


jeff said...

I think it was Kant (though maybe it was Russel) who pointed out that "You can't make a predicate out of existence" In other words, though it sounds good to say "a perfect person is quite likely, a priori (it being good that good exists)" doesn't quite stand up.
I realize that you might disagree with Kant (or Russel) but I was surprised at how hard it was (atleast for me) to cash out the claim "it's better to exist than not to exist" (or related formulations such as yours)
I do believe in your conclusions, at least in the broad strokes... But I'm not sure that I see that this argument actually gets you there.

I'd also like to engage you on the topic of religious pluralism (since you referred to it tangentially)
I'm pretty passionate about this topic. As undergrad, I studied the topic pretty intensely at a school that was quite sympathetic to the Religious Pluralism program. (Chapman University, a little school in Southern California, in the U.S,) I got about halfway through a master's degree at a school a little less sympathetic. (Claremont Graduate School, also in So. Cal.)
Through this whole time, I basically considered myself a pluralist.
The problem I ran up against was this:
How can you affirm the basic convictions of the world faiths without watering these faiths down so utterly that they become little more than slogans? By the time you've made the faiths symbolic enough to all get along, these faiths are so watered down, in my opinion, that they are hardly worth holding. (The alternative tact is to so relative human conceptual facilities that we're similarly left adrift.)

Enigman said...

Hi Jeff, I wish I knew much about pluralism... I hope to soon (there's an undergrad course here next term) but for now I'd guess that the answer to that problem is just horrendously complicated (as it would naturally lie within the most difficult areas of philosophy of language and metaphysics).

According to my theodicy, God is hidden because of a purpose (which we've forgotten we've agreed to - our current memories seem to largely supervene on our brains) that also requires that we be good and seek God in our lives, so I imagine that God intervenes in various ways, to keep us on track without compromising our mission here. I wouldn't like to guess which doctrines are really true (any more than I'd like to guess which bits of physics will make it through the next paradigm shift), but there may not need to be much watering down (cf. reconciling different poetic descriptions, or different diet plans). Anyway I hope to discuss this with you further later, when I'm more up on the specific problems.

I agree that the ontological argument is poor; but I'm thinking more of a probabilistic argument, and of when and why we ask, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" To begin with, if things are bad (or just pointless) we may be more likely to ask "Why?" But when things are good, that may seem good enough. So, when we are looking for the best explanation of our observations, it seems that goodness counts for something (it seems to reduce what needs explaining).

Good is about what ought to be, so by definition it ought to be that something good (rather than nothing) exists, which cannot be said of something bad (or neutral). And something that could be intrinsically good is not so much a useful tool as a lovely person. Also, we know for sure that people exist (it is not like quarks and superstrings), so people should again be quite likely. So, if something is going to exist (rather than nothing) because it is good, then a perfect person seems likely. All of which is indeed terribly weak; but it only needs to be on a par, more or less (in the opinion of an intelligent agnostic), with the prior probability of a morally neutral material world.

jeff said...

It looks like you've been quite busy since my last posting here. I'll toss out some thoughts on Religious Pluralism elsewhere as it appears you've blogged about it. I'll confine myself to a few other things mentioned in your post.
Your probabalistic ontological argument is interesting. I'm wondering if it suffers from this flaw:
#1) If we run the argument that the existence (or abundance) of a thing implies that this thing is good, do we then begin to have to correlate goodness with that which exists in bulk and evil with that which is scarce?
#2) I agree that one fair assumption of the state of things is the possibility that we've agreed to limit ourselves, we've chosen to forget our true natures. (I think this train of thought leads to 2 stations: The first is Hinduism and the second is so-called New Age Philosophies.)
An interpretation that also accounts for the same fact is that we simply do not know and the universe was quite intentionally structured this way.
People (including myself) struggle with the fact that faith requires such a leap. But the reality is that if God wrote his name in the sky, if making the "correct" faith decision carried with it staggering, unequivocal rewards, then taking a step in faith would not be an act of courage; any knucklehead would do it more as an act of easy selfishness than anything else.

Enigman said...

re #1, I don't think that a thing's existence could imply its goodness; my argument was about the a priori prior probabilities, and the relative abundance of created things would be up to whatever exists uncreated, which is probably good according to my argument. (Relative abundance is a strange thing here, if one agrees with Dostoyevski's Ivan, that one little child gratuitously tortured would be too much, even for an infinitude of saints and angels to counterbalance.)

re #2, I'm glad you agree that it's fair, as I'm pretty ignorant about theology (being a very lay christian). To me it also seems similar to the traditional Fall theodicy, in which we were better and then chose in such a way that we became more ignorant (the "we" seems appropriate if we are to share responsibility, as we do on the Fall theodicy, even though we did not make the choice personally). It's not so much that we chose to forget, as that we made a choice whilst in a better state, which led to this state, in which we forget our responsibilities, amongst other things. If our ignorance does include such a choice, problems like Ivan's (#1) don't reduce the probability of God. (Many thanks for you comments; "More than one way?" is indeed a good read:)