Morality and the Human Condition, #9–Does an Essentially Rational God Exist?

By Robert Hanna

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Table of Contents

II. The Standard Conception of Morality

II.1 The Moral Question and The Meaning Question

II.2 How Ethics Relates to Morality

II.3 How Morality Relates to Rationality

II.4 Six Famously Hard Cases

III. Three Classical Challenges to the Standard Conception of Morality

III.1 Moral Relativism

III.2 Eight Logical Principles of Human Rationality

III.3 Moral Skepticism

III.4 Psychological and Moral Egoism

IV. Morality and Religion

IV.1 God and The Divine Command Theory

IV.2 Does an Essentially Rational God Exist?

IV.3 Religion and Morality

V. Three Classical Moral Theories

V.1 Aristotelian Virtue Ethics

V.1.1 Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, books 1–3: A Brief Exposition

V.1.2 Four Worries about Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics

V.1.3 Contemporary Virtue Ethics

V.2 Millian Utilitarianism

V.2.1 Not-So-Happy Little Campers: Ten Big Problems for Millian Utilitarianism

V.3 Kant’s Ethics of Persons and Principles

V.3.1 Ten Basic Ideas

V.3.2 Three Classical Worries about Kant’s Ethics

V.4 All-Things-Considered Conclusion of This Section

VI. Pascal’s Optimism and Schopenhauer’s Pessimism

VI.1 Pascal’s Optimism About the Meaning of Life

VI.2 Schopenhauer’s Pessimism About the Meaning of Life

VI.3 Pascal or Schopenhauer? Optimism or Pessimism?

VII. Existentialism, the Absurd, and Affirmation

VII.1 Two Kinds of Existentialism

VII.2 Nagel and the Absurd

VII.3 Camus and Affirmation

VIII. The Ethics of Authenticity

VIII.1 Existential Ethics and the Concept of Authenticity

VIII.1.1 What is Authenticity?

VIII.1.2 Authenticity and Radical Freedom

VIII.1.3 Inauthenticity, Freedom-Refusers, and Freedom Deniers

VIII.2 Two Important Problems for Existential Ethics

VIII.3 Sartre on Principled Authenticity

IX. The Nature of Death

IX.1 The Ambiguity of “Death”

IX.2 The Nature of Our Own Death

IX.2.1 Nagel On the Nature of Our Own Death

IX.2.2 Suits Against the “Deprivation” Account of the Badness of Death

IX.2.3 Some Critical Worries About What Nagel and Suits are Saying About the Nature of Our Own Death

X. The (Im)Possibility of Human Immortality

X.1 Williams on the Tedium of Immortality

X.2 Fischer on How Human Immortality Could Be a Good Thing

X.3 Some Worries About What Williams and Fischer are Saying About Human Immortality

X.4 Human Life Without Immortality

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This installment contains section IV.2.

But you can also read or download a .pdf version of the complete short course HERE.

***

IV.2 Does an Essentially Rational God Exist?

What I want to consider critically now is the extremely urgent and burning question,

Does a God who makes the first principles of morality be true just insofar as they are also objectively true in themselves and flow from the rational character of God’s own nature, not merely from God’s will, exist or not?

Or in other words, I want to consider critically the extremely urgent and burning question, does an essentially rational God exist, or not?

This brings us back to The 3-O God thesis I described in section IV.1.

Let’s assume, for the purposes of critical analysis and argument, that a 3–0 God is an essentially rational God.

Then there are at least two different ways of believing The 3-O God Thesis.

One is called theism, which holds that a 3-O God is directly causally involved in every aspect of His/Her natural creation at all times.

An intriguing and highly controversial variant on theism, called pantheism — defended, e.g., by the radical 17th century Dutch Rationalist philosopher Baruch Spinoza — holds that a 3-O God is also, somehow, identical with nature.

And the other way of believing The 3-O God Thesis is called deism, which holds that a 3-O God acts causally and creatively only once, at the beginning of time, and then doesn’t intervene thereafter.

Deism is closely connected with the rise of modern science in the 17th century, and the Newtonian doctrine of universal natural mechanism, hence it’s also closely connected with the famous analogy according to which nature is essentially a kind of clock, or clockwork puppet, that’s created, wound up, and activated by God.

Of course, it’s also possible to believe that a 3-O God doesn’t exist, which is the doctrine of atheism.

There’s also a third position that’s neither theism/deism (a 3-O God exists) nor atheism (a 3-O God doesn’t exist), and that’s agnosticism, which remains neutral, or in belief-suspension, as between the belief that a 3-O God exists or doesn’t exist, and leaves open both possibilities.

It’s also useful to distinguish between two versions of agnosticism.

One is what I will call ordinary agnosticism, which says that we should remain at least provisionally neutral, or in belief-suspension, as between the belief that a 3-O God exists and the belief that a 3-O God does not exist, because the evidence we currently have is such that we do not know and cannot prove whether a 3-O God exists or does not exist.

The other version of agnosticism is what I call radical agnosticism, which says that it’s rationally impossible for me to be other than consistently neutral, or permanently in belief-suspension, as between the belief that a 3-O God exists and the belief that a 3-O God does not exist, because we can know (a priori and with certainty) that it’s rationally impossible for anyone to know or prove whether a 3-O God exists or does not exist.[i]

In order to resolve the provisional neutrality of ordinary agnostics and to answer the doubts of God-skeptics and outright atheists, various proofs for a 3-O God’s existence have been offered.

Classically, the proofs have been of three different kinds:

(i) The Ontological Argument,

(ii) The Cosmological Argument, and

(iii) The Teleological Argument (aka The Argument from Intelligent Design, aka The Design Argument).

There are many subtly different versions of these arguments, but here are the basic proof-strategies for each kind of argument.

The Ontological Argument says:

(1) The concept of God is the concept of an absolutely perfect being. (Premise: God’s 3-O-ness).

(2) An absolutely perfect being must contain all perfections. (From 1.)

(3) Existence is a perfection, because to fail to exist when it is possible to exist, is an imperfection. (Premise.)

(4) Therefore, a 3-O God necessarily exists. (From 1, 2, and 3.)

The Cosmological Argument says:

(1) Everything has a sufficient cause and explanation. (Premise: Principle of Sufficient Reason.)

(2) So the world as a whole must have a sufficient cause and explanation. (From 1.)

(3) The world as a whole is contingent (i.e., neither logically or metaphysically necessary in the sense that, logically or metaphysically speaking, it might not have existed, nor logically or metaphysically sufficient for itself), so the world cannot be the cause and explanation of itself. (From 2.)

(4) Only a 3-O God, who is the cause and explanation of Her/Himself (aka causa sui), is great enough to be the sufficient cause and explanation of the whole world. (From 3 and God’s 3-O-ness.)

(5) Therefore, a 3-O God exists. (From 1, 2, 3, and 4.)

And The Teleological Argument says:

(1) Some types of structure are so amazingly intricate that they imply intelligent design or purpose. (Premise.)

(2) Intelligent design or purpose implies the existence of an intelligent designer. (Premise.)

(3) The world as a whole is amazingly intricately structured. (Premise.)

(4) So the world as a whole must be intelligently designed, and have an intelligent designer. (From 1, 2, and 3.)

(5) Only a 3-O God is great enough to have intelligently designed the whole world. (Premise: God’s 3-O-ness.)

(6) Therefore, a 3-O God exists. (From 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.)

There are various classical objections to these arguments, and various classical replies to those objections.

But for our purposes in this short course, the most important objection is The Argument for Atheism from the Fact of Evil.

Here’s one version of it, sometimes called The Metaphysical Argument for Atheism from the Fact of Evil:

(1) Assume that a 3-O God exists, and (as per God’s 3-O-ness) is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good. (Premise.)

(2) Assume that evil exists in the world — both natural evil (e.g., disasters and disease) and also moral evil (wicked choices or intentions and acts, or simply bad things that happen to people). (Premise.)

(3) Then either God is responsible for the existence of evil, in which case God is Her/Himself evil and not all-good, which is a contradiction with God’s assumed 3-O-ness. (From 1 and 2.)

(4) Or God is not responsible for the existence of evil and yet knew that it was going to happen and couldn’t prevent it — so God is not all-powerful (Woody Allen: “God is basically an underachiever”), which is also a contradiction with assumed God’s 3-O-ness. (From 1 and 2.)

(5) Or God would have prevented evil but didn’t know it was going to happen, and is to that extent ignorant and not all-knowing, which is another contradiction with God’s assumed 3-O-ness. (From 1 and 2.)

(6) Therefore, given the existence of evil, God necessarily does not exist. (From 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.)

The classical responses to the Metaphysical Argument for Atheism from the Fact of Evil are:

(1) theodicy — which says there’s a possible or at least minimally plausible explanation of how and why the existence of both natural evil and moral evil are really consistent with a 3-O God’s nature, and

(2) the free will defense — which is consistent with theodicy, but with narrower scope, and says that the existence of at least moral evil flows from our free will, a capacity created by a 3-O God for our benefit and betterment, and more specifically that free will makes possible our moral improvement and moral progress.

The leading classical example of theodicy was worked out in 1710 by G.W. Leibniz,[ii] who holds the thesis that even despite all the apparent natural and moral evil, this actual world is the best of all possible worlds — a thesis much derided by Voltaire in Candide.

Leaving aside derision, a basic response to theodicy is that either a possible or even a minimally plausible explanation aren’t good enough: what’s needed is a rationally compelling explanation that overrides the conclusion of The Metaphysical Argument for Atheism from the Fact of Evil.

Correspondingly, a basic response to the free will defense (famously expressed, e.g., by Ivan Karamazov in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov) is that any God who would permit things as horrendous as (e.g.) the rape, torture, and/or murder of children and other innocents, as the price we pay for the wonders of personal free will, and who would promulgate the claim that these unfortunate victims are actually heroes and martyrs in the great cause of metaphysical freedom, is completely morally unacceptable.

(Compare: “Yes, the latest mass-shooting is just the price we pay for the wonders of personal liberty as enshrined in The Second Amendment, and these unfortunate victims — our thoughts and prayers are with their families — are actually heroes and martyrs in the great cause of American freedom.”)

In any case, I think it’s reasonable to conclude from our critical analysis of these arguments that the existence or non-existence of a 3-O God, aka an essentially rational God, is at the very least an open question.

Now let’s turn to the connection between religion and morality.

NOTES

[ii] See, e.g., G.W. Leibniz, “A Vindication of God’s Justice Reconciled with His Other Perfections and All His Actions,” trans. P. and A.M. Schrecker in G.W. Leibniz, Leibniz: Monadology and Other Philosophical Essays (Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965), pp. 114–147.

AGAINST PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY REDUX 393

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Mr Nemo

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.