bookmark_borderHow Not to Refute an Argument from Moral Law for God’s Existence

Jerry Coyne just posted an article titled, “Paul Bloom debunks the ‘Moral Law argument for God.’” I found myself getting irritated as I read the article because it’s obvious Coyne doesn’t know what he is talking about.

Before we get to Bloom’s findings, what is the “moral law argument”? It’s simply this: human altruism can’t be explained by any kind of evolution. What I mean is pure altruism, whereby an animal helps another animal not only unrelated to it, but not part of its social group, and helps in such a way that it sacrifices its own reproductive potential without getting anything back.  It’s unrequited altruism. That kind of behavior simply can’t evolve, at least by natural selection, because it reduces the fitness of the performer.

No. That is NOT “the moral law argument” defended by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. Coyne is attacking a straw man argument.
First, we need to be clear that there is no such thing as “the” moral law argument. There are many moral arguments. D’Souza, in his book, What’s So Great about Christianity?, defends an argument I’ve called the “Moral Laws Require a Moral Lawgiver” argument. I invite the reader to click that link, see my summary of that argument, and decide for themselves whether Coyne’s post has anything at all do with that argument.
Turning to Collins, I don’t have a copy of Collins’ book handy as I’m writing this post, but Collins explicitly says that he was convinced by C.S. Lewis’s moral argument. When reading Collins’ book, I remember thinking to myself, “Collins is pretty much making the same argument Lewis did; he’s just adding on some information about sociobiology.” It could be the case that Collins did make the absurd claim that atheism cannot explain moral emotions; I’d have to go re-read his book to find out. But, even if he did make such a claim, Coyne would still be guilty of attacking a straw man because there is much more to Lewis’s argument (and Collins’s defense of it) than an appeal to known facts about moral psychology (i.e., moral emotions). The focus of the argument is about the Moral Law, but Coyne writes as if Lewis, Collins, D’Souza had only talked about altruism and said nothing about moral ontology (or moral epistemology).
Let’s review what Lewis actually wrote, since a quick summary of Lewis’s argument (which is defended by Collins) will show that Coyne has simply missed the point of the argument. Lewis’s book, Mere Christianity, was originally delivered over the radio for BBC for a popular audience and only later printed as a book. So he didn’t present his argument in its logical form, with neatly labeled premises and a conclusion. Nevertheless, I think we can quite easily place his argument into is logical form. The first thing to note is that Lewis was making an explanatory argument, i.e., he was arguing that God (in his words, the “Religious View”) is the best explanation for certain known facts about the Moral Law.
Let’s begin with some definitions:
“materialist view”: the hypothesis that there is no Mind “behind” the universe (i.e., there is no Creator). The universe itself, as well as all the creatures inside it (including humans), are not the effect of a supernatural First Cause or intelligent Designer.
“Religious view”: the hypothesis that there is a Mind behind the universe which caused and designed the universe, partly to produce creatures that, like It, have minds.
Lewis includes three statements in the background information relevant to his explanatory argument.
1. The materialist view entails that there is no Mind “behind” the universe (i.e., there is no Creator). The universe itself, as well as all the creatures inside it (including humans), are not the effect of a supernatural First Cause or intelligent Designer. (21-22)
2. The Religious view entails that there is a Mind “behind” the universe (i.e., there is a Creator who is conscious, has purposes, and preferences). This Mind created and designed the universe partly to produce creatures that, like It, have minds. (22)
3. A Mind “behind” the universe could reveal Its existence to us by trying to get us to behave in a certain way. (24)
Lewis says that there are three facts about the Moral Law which need explanation.
1. Human beings have moral obligations which are grounded in the Moral Law.
2. Most human beings know at least the general principles of the Moral Law.
3. Most human beings experience moral emotions related to the Moral Law, such as guilt and obligation.
Using this distinction between background information and the evidence to be explained, Lewis’s argument becomes a straightforward explanatory argument.
(1.) The evidence relevant to the Religious view is known to be true. [Note: this evidence is composed of the three facts just listed above]
(2.) The materialist view has weak explanatory power, i.e., the evidence to be explained is very improbable if the materialist view is true.
(3.) The Religious view has strong explanatory power, i.e., the evidence to be explained is very probable if the Religious view is true.
(4.) So, the Religious view is the best explanation of the relevant evidence.
(5.) Therefore, the Religious view is probably true.
This summary of C.S. Lewis’s argument should make it immediately obvious that Lewis, at least, does NOT make the absurd claim that “human altruism can’t be explained by any kind of evolution” (my emphasis). Coyne, of course, is correct that evolution can explain human altruism. But that doesn’t refute Lewis’s argument. First, Coyne’s post is irrelevant to Lewis’s claims about moral obligations and moral knowledge/beliefs.
Second, even when it comes to Lewis’s point about moral emotions, such as guilt and obligation, Coyne still misses the mark. An explanatory argument, as the name implies, is an argument about which hypothesis gives the best explanation. It’s logically incorrect to claim an explanatory argument for some hypothesis A is refuted by the fact that some other hypothesis, B, can also explain the evidence. Even if that’s true–in other words, even if B can also explain the evidence–that’s irrelevant. All that matters is whether the explanatory argument’s comparative claim, that A is a better explanation than its competitors, is true.
This shows that Coyne needs to do more than simply show that evolution can explain moral emotions. He needs to directly refute the claim that God is the best explanation for moral emotions, either by showing that an evolutionary explanation is as good as a theistic explanation or by showing that an evolutionary explanation is better than a theistic explanation. Coyne doesn’t do either of those things, however. The closest Coyne comes to doing this is when he talks about how the evolutionary explanation is “more parsimonious” than the theistic explanation. That’s a good point as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough to successfully refute the explanatory argument. It doesn’t show that the parsimony of the evolutionary explanation is so great as to outweigh the (alleged) superior explanatory power of the theistic explanation.

bookmark_borderStirring the Pot

It has been quiet here at SO lately. A little TOO quiet—as they used to say in the old Western movies. Maybe we are not saying anything very controversial. Or maybe people are just too busy with real work to do. Anyway, I thought I would stir the pot with some claims that I would like to see debated. I do not necessarily endorse either of these claims, but I would like to see them argued out. Luther had 95 theses. I will make do with two:
1) Further argument on theism vs. atheism issues is pointless because accumulating evidence indicates that religiosity is a deeply-rooted personality trait that is, in turn, neurologically based. Put simply, the brains of religious and non-religious people just work differently. Reasons, even if logically sound, serve the psychological purpose of post hoc rationalizations of beliefs that are physiologically determined. We should therefore stop wasting our time debating these issues and get on with something more useful, like figuring out how to get decent cable TV service.
2) Even if we think that rationality is still relevant to the discussion, we have to face the fact, as John Hick eloquently and cogently argued in An Interpretation of Religion, that reality is religiously ambiguous. That is, there are no reasons either for or against a religious interpretation of the world that are strong enough to convict theists or atheists of irrationality. Thousands of years of inconclusive argument should convince us that neither theists nor atheists are simply being obstinately unreasonable. No theistic or atheological argument is so strong as to simply checkmate the opposition. It is possible to reasonably refuse the conclusion of any such argument. Let us therefore embrace a pluralism that recognizes that naturalism is a rational option and that the various religious traditions are equally reasonable ways of responding to a putative transcendent reality.

bookmark_borderPlaying The Mystery Card (incl. McGrath vs Dawkins) from my book Believing Bullshit



Suppose critics point out that not only do you have little in the way of argument to support your particular belief system, there also seems to be powerful evidence against it. If you want, nevertheless, to convince both yourself and others that your beliefs are not nearly as ridiculous as your critics suggest, what might you do?


Perhaps Play The Mystery Card. As we will see, this sort of strategy is particularly popular when it comes to defending beliefs in the supernatural – beliefs in ghosts, angels, psychic powers and gods, and so on. By far the most popular version of the strategy – the version on which I focus here – is to say, “Ah, but of course this is beyond the ability of science/reason to decide. We must acknowledge that science and reason have their limits. It is sheer arrogance to suppose they can explain everything.” Some things may indeed be beyond the ability of science and reason to decide. However, as we’ll see, those who say “But it’s beyond the ability of science/reason to decide” in order to try to immunize what they believe against rational criticism are often erecting little more than a smokescreen.


 “But it’s beyond science /reason to decide”



The view that science can ultimately explain everything – can answer every legitimate question – is called scientism. Actually, even most scientists consider scientism a dubious doctrine. Many of them accept that there may be questions science cannot answer.

  Continue reading “Playing The Mystery Card (incl. McGrath vs Dawkins) from my book Believing Bullshit”

bookmark_borderPhilosophy and religion in Schools

Religion and philosophy in schools

(from Hand and Winstanley, Philosophy in Schools, Continuum 2008))


Is philosophy in schools a good idea? The extent to which early exposure to a little philosophical thinking is of educational benefit is, of course, largely an empirical question. As a philosopher, that sort of empirical study is not my area of expertise.

But of course there is also a philosophical dimension to this question. As a philosopher, conceptual clarification and the analysis of the logic of the arguments on either side certainly is my field. That is where I hope to make a small contribution here.

This chapter is in two parts. In the first, I look at two popular religious objections to the suggestion that all children ought to be encouraged to think independently and critically about moral and religious issues. In the second part, I explain a well-known philosophical distinction – that between reasons and causes – and give a couple of examples of how this conceptual distinction might help illuminate this debate.

PART ONE: Two popular religious objections

Philosophy in the classroom involves children thinking critically and independently about the big questions. These questions include questions about morality and the origin and purpose of human existence. Examples are: “Why is there anything at all?”, “What makes things right or wrong?” And “What happens to us when we die?” These questions are also addressed by religion. The subject matter of philosophy and religion significantly overlap. And where there is overlap, there is the possibility of disputed territory. Proponents of philosophy in the classroom may find themselves coming into conflict with at least some of the faithful. While many religious people are enthusiastic about philosophy in the classroom, there are also many who are either totally opposed to it, or else want severely to restrict its scope. Some Christians, Muslims and Jews consider the introduction of philosophy an unwelcome intrusion into those parts of the curriculum that have traditionally been deemed theirs. They have developed a whole range of objections. Continue reading “Philosophy and religion in Schools”

bookmark_borderThe Afterlife Broadcasting Company Presents

This is a portion of a dialogue I wrote for the benefit of students in my introductory ethics class. Since we have had some lively debates about ethical matters here at SO, I thought some readers might be interested. I imagined a discussion (in some sort of afterlife) between Aristotle, Locke, Mill, and Kant. Each of the characters in the dialogue are my inventions, based on my readings of the originals.They have all been updated and so, of course, much of what they have to say is completely anachronistic. Still, this is my best guess of what they WOULD say if resurrected today.
Moderator: Here at ABC we have the privilege of interviewing history’s leading figures without the inconvenient encumbrances of temporal and spatial boundaries. Last week we had a stimulating exchange between Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, His Highness, the Emperor Napoleon the First, Bonaparte, and his Imperial Highness Czar Alexander I. Today we are privileged to interview four gentlemen who, while not flaunting the exorbitant titles of last week’s guests, are gifted with far more important qualities—enormous intellect and a devotion to inquiring into the deepest questions.
I would like to welcome, first, Aristotle, who is often regarded as the greatest thinker of classical antiquity, a philosopher of enormous range and depth whose writings address the fields of ethics, politics, rhetoric, logic, the philosophy of science, metaphysics, astronomy, biology, literary criticism, and much more besides. Let’s welcome a truly universal thinker—Aristotle of Stagira.
Aristotle: Thanks, and a pleasure to be here.
Mod: Our next guest is Mr. John Stuart Mill, another author of wide-ranging interests, from logic to scientific method to ethics to political philosophy, and often regarded as the preeminent British philosopher of the 19th Century. Welcome, Mr. Mill.
Mill: Thank you and it is also a pleasure to be here.
Mod: Next is Dr. John Locke, physician and philosopher whose Essay Concerning Human Understanding is the founding document of the great tradition of British Empiricism, and whose Second Treatise of Government is a classic of political theory and strongly influenced the Founders of the United States of America. Welcome, Dr. Locke.
Locke: Allow me to say how honored I am to be a part of esteemed group.
Mod: Finally, our next guest is Professor Immanuel Kant, often regarded as the leading modern philosopher. His monumental Critique of Pure Reason is one of the most important contributions to the theory of knowledge, achieving a brilliant synthesis of both the rationalist and empiricist traditions. Similarly, his small but profound Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals is one of the most important works in the history of ethics. Welcome to the show, Professor Kant.
Kant: I am both honored and happy to be a part of this most important discussion.
Mod: Let me begin, then, by asking a simple but, I hope, provocative question: Why should we be good? That is, even if we could define the good, why is it more reasonable to be good than not? I know that each of you could easily write a volume on this, but let me ask that each of you give an initial response of one sentence. So, why be good?
Aristotle: Because that is the only way to be happy.
Kant: Because it is your duty as a rational being.
Locke: Because insofar as each individual expects his own rights to be respected, he has an equal obligation to respect and defend the rights of his equals, and all humans are equal in the rights they possess.
Mill: If the question is what is the fundamental motivation to do good, then it is nothing other than the conscientious feelings of mankind, our sense of obligation to our fellow creatures.
Mod: Aristotle, may I ask that you expand on your answer a bit. Why is being good the only way to be happy? Cannot an evil man be happy?
Aristotle: To be good is to be virtuous. It is to display, as a fixed trait of character, the tendency to act generously, bravely, moderately, justly, and so forth. Virtues, as I conceive of them, are qualities of human excellence, excellence in fulfilling the human function. What is the human function? Nature has adapted human beings to live a life of rationality in society with other human beings. All creatures flourish best when they possess and exercise the qualities of excellence that enable them to do well what they are adapted to do. Thus, a successful hunting dog is successful because it possesses the qualities of a keen sense of smell, eagerness for the chase, speed, strength, endurance, and obedience to its master. Likewise, human beings flourish when they consistently do well what nature has designed them to do, that is, to think rationally and to live in peaceful and mutually beneficial society with other humans. The intellectual virtues are the excellences whereby people learn to think rationally and the moral virtues are the excellences whereby people live successfully in society with other human beings. For instance, a person who is generous, courageous, temperate, and just will, in general, live more successfully among his fellow human beings than one who is selfish, cowardly, ill-tempered, or unjust. The former, even in difficult and humble circumstances will find fulfillment, while the latter, even if powerful and rich, will find happiness elusive.
Mill: Very eloquently put, Aristotle. I would only add that the pleasures of acting virtuously and benevolently are higher quality pleasures and that those who have experienced such pleasure would not trade them for any quantity of the lower pleasures that you can get by being greedy, vindictive, or spiteful. Those, for instance, who seek their own good narrowly, and without due consideration of the happiness of others, will not find it. On the contrary, the selfish condemn themselves to unhappiness because by pursuing the lower pleasures that selfishness brings, they render themselves incapable of experiencing the pleasures of infinity greater quality that generosity and benevolence provide. Can an evil man be happy? Well, of course he can experience pleasures, but they will be pleasures accompanied by many negative feelings and will fall far short of the superior pleasures enjoyed by the good.
Locke: Allow me to add merely that all human relations, except the relation of master to slave, which is a state of continual war between the slave and his enslaver, are possible only on the basis of the mutual advantage of each party to the relation. There is no reason whatsoever that I should abandon a state of nature and contract to live in society with you unless in doing so my happiness is duly considered and the rights necessary to the maintenance of my happiness are guaranteed. Hence, if I enter into society with others to seek my own good, then necessarily I must agree to equally seek the good of every other party to that compact.
Kant: Allow me to sound a dissonant note in what sounds like a symphony of consensus. Moral demands are absolute. That is their very nature. Any demand that is merely hypothetical, and not categorical, cannot be a moral demand, that is, a duty. The Moral Law commands and it offers no qualifications in the form of “ifs” “ands” or “buts.” The demand of the Moral Law, which I expressed as my Categorical Imperative, is that every legitimate rule of conduct is universalizable, that is, if it is a legitimate rule to guide my behavior, then it must be possible for it to be the rule for everyone’s behavior. The criterion for morality is thus nothing but logical consistency, and, as such, it is established on an a priori basis. It follows that all empirical and contingent considerations, such as the happiness of individuals, or the conditions upon which society are founded, are simply irrelevant. The force of the duty to do what is good is the force of reason itself. Hence, it is binding on each rational creature considered only as a rational creature. Whether doing one’s duty makes you happy or not is irrelevant. Surely it is the case that doing one’s duty can make you unhappy; indeed, it can kill you. Goodness therefore can have no essential connection with happiness, either as the motivation to be good, or as constitutive of good, as, I think, both Aristotle and Mr. Mill would assert.
Mod: Aristotle, would you or Mr. Mill care to respond?
Aristotle: Certainly. First, let me be clear that I do not think that virtue is sufficient for happiness, only that it is necessary. A person who suffering from a painful and debilitating illness, or one who is in a state of dire poverty, cannot be considered happy, however virtuous he or she might be. My claim is that, given a very rough parity of circumstances, the virtuous person will always do better than the person who is unjust, intemperate, ungenerous, etc.
At a deeper level, I think that Professor Kant has pointed to one of our most profound differences. His justly famous Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals begins with the assertion that the only purely good thing is a good will. What is a good will? It is a will that desires to do the good thing simply because it is one’s duty. On Professor Kant’s view, one who does a good thing out of a sense of duty, even if his personal inclination is strongly against doing that good act, has done a better thing than one who does the good act because it gives him pleasure to do the right thing. On my view, on the contrary, a truly virtuous person is one who enjoys virtuous acts. For instance, one who reluctantly gives to charity out of a sense duty, while really wishing to keep the money and spend it self-indulgently, has not really attained virtue. On the other hand, one who finds deep personal satisfaction in acting generously has attained true magnanimity of character. Likewise, for all the other virtues. We would not call someone virtuous who does not love virtue.
Mod: So, the basic difference between the two of you is that Professor Kant holds that a good will is the only truly good thing, while you, Aristotle, hold that it is a good character?
Aristotle: Actually, I think we have very different views on what motivates people to do the right thing. As I see it, reason per se motivates nothing. In addition to recognizing the right action, there must be a motivation for doing it, and that motivation must be a feeling—desire. One whose character has been properly molded will desire the desirable rather than some unnatural and destructive pleasure. Only one who loves virtue and finds deep satisfaction in acting virtuously can be depended upon to consistently display virtue.
Kant: I, on the other hand, hold that the only way to be a rational agent, that is, one whose choices are genuinely rational and free, is to achieve autonomy, that is, to become a lawgiver for oneself. If I command myself to do my duty, simply because I perceive it to be my duty–and not because of any feeling or personal advantage—I have attained complete rationality and freedom. To be motivated in any other way is to be, to that extent, less rational and less free. If I do good because of an emotional motivation, even the love of doing good, then the good is not truly mine since I am being carried along on a tide of emotion.
Mill: Allow me to interject here. If I understand correctly, what divides the two of you seems to be a question of psychology. It appears to be an empirical issue about what motivates human beings. If that is the issue, I will side with Aristotle. Indeed, I hold that there is no mark of desirability other than observing what people actually desire. There is no test of visibility other than what people actually see; likewise, when we say that something is desirable, the only test is to see whether people actually do desire it.
Aristotle: Hmmm. I have to disagree with you on that Mr. Mill. I think it is all too plain that people, perhaps even the great majority, often desire the objectively undesirable. I think that there have to be objective criteria for what is desirable and it cannot reduce to what people in fact desire. Before getting too deeply into that point, though, allow me to clarify the difference between myself and Professor Kant. As I noted earlier, Professor Kant begins Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals with words to the effect that the only purely good thing is a good will. While I certainly agree that a good will is one that desires the final good for its own sake (and subsidiary goods because their telos is the final good) I see such desire as an inclination of the whole person, not simply the inclination of a particular power of volition. This is why I cannot regard someone who does the good without any sense of deep emotional satisfaction, but only out of an abstract recognition of duty, as a truly good person. Such a person does the good—like a soldier who marches when he is ordered—but his heart is not really in it. Yet this is the type of person for whom Professor Kant offers the highest praise, namely, one who does his duty simply because it is his duty, even though his feelings are against it. Ask yourself, though: Would you rather have someone perform a service for you gladly and with pleasure, or coldly, and maybe even resentfully, out of a sense of duty?
Kant: If I understand you correctly, Aristotle, do you not say that, for instance, a generous person is one who loves generous acts and a courageous person is one who loves courageous acts?
Aristotle: That is indeed my view.
Kant: Surely, though, you will admit that such virtue can often serve bad ends. A person who is generous in giving time or money to a bad cause, or who is courageous in fighting for wicked ends (like the Waffen SS troops that fought so bravely for the Nazis), is behaving virtuously, but that behavior is promoting bad ends. Indeed, all of those external goods and traits of character or intellect that we normally call “good” can be bad if they are possessed by a bad person. A poor, stupid, weak-willed bad person can do some damage, but a rich, highly intelligent, and resolute bad person can do much, much more evil. Therefore, the only thing that is truly, purely, and always good is a good will.
Aristotle: Surely, though, you will admit that people often follow evil with the purest of intentions. That is, with the best will in the world, people will often commit themselves to movements or causes that are thoroughly evil because they mistakenly think that these causes are good. For instance in the 1930’s, many intellectuals in Western democracies supported communism with the best of intentions. For instance, J. Robert Oppenheimer, later head of the Manhattan Project and at the time a famous professor of physics at Berkeley, though he never joined the Communist Party, did support it and made considerable contributions of time and money. At the time the world was in the throes of the Great Depression, and untold millions were suffering. Capitalism seemed to have failed, and communism seemed to be the wave of the future, with the promise of a better life for all. These fantasies were soon deflated, at least for those willing to face the truth. The point, though, is that if people can will something that is actually evil but with the best and purest of intentions (and they can), then a good will can serve evil just as much as the virtues of generosity or courage can. If you insist that a truly good will can will only truly good ends, and that there must be something wrong with a will that wills things actually evil, then, likewise, I can insist that true virtue serves only truly good ends and that there is something lacking in “virtue” that serves bad ends.

bookmark_borderTV interview in Tehran

I was at a philosophy of religion conference in Tehran, Iran last week – invited as an atheist to speak to and engage with assembled philosophers, cleric. etc.
I appeared briefly on TV – unfortunately the bit of the interview they chose to broadcast was misleading as they cut the “but”…
Go here: I was at a philosophy of religion conference in Tehran, Iran last week – invited as an atheist to speak to and engage with assembled philosophers, cleric. etc.
I appeared briefly on TV – unfortunately the bit of the interview they chose to broadcast was misleading as they cut the “but”…
Go here.

bookmark_borderBest of All Possible Persons – Part 2

What do you get if you cross ‘the best of all possible worlds’ (from Leibniz) with ‘the being than which none greater can be conceived’ (from Anselm)? You get: the best of all possible persons, which is another way to conceive of God.
Here are two proofs of the non-existence of God, based on this way of understanding the concpet of God:
1. Person P is the best of all possible persons only if P creates the best of all possible worlds.
2. No person ever has or ever will create the best of all possible worlds.
3. Person P is God only if P is the best of all possible persons.
4. No person ever has been God, nor will any person ever be God.
5. God does not exist.
6. Person P is the best of all possible persons only if P has the best of all possible knowledge.
7. No person ever has or ever will have the best of all possible knowledge.
3. Person P is God only if P is the best of all possible persons.
4. No person ever has been God, nor will any person ever be God.
5. God does not exist.
One could avoid the conclusion simply by rejecting the proposed definition of God, but this way of conceiving of God has some appeal, especially given the similarity to Anselm’s definition of God. For now, I will only try to defend the second premise of each argument: premise (2) and premise (7).
Here is the second premise of DISPROOF OF GOD #1:
2. No person ever has or ever will create the best of all possible worlds.
Swinburne gives an argument in support of (2) in The Existence of God (2nd edition, p.115):
…take any world W.  Presumably the goodness of such a world…will consist in part in it containing a finite or infinite number of conscious beings who will enjoy it.  But, if the enjoyment of the world by each is a valuable thing, surely a world with a few more conscious beings in it would be a yet more valuable world…
For any given world W, it is always possible to improve upon W by adding another happy conscious being to enjoy that world.  Thus,  there is no best of all possible worlds, just as there is no largest positive integer.  It is not merely a fact that there is no best of all possible worlds, just as it is not merely a fact that there is no largest positive integer: it is logically impossible for there to be a best of all possible worlds.  There is a logical contradiciton contained in the very concept of ‘the best of all possible worlds’, just as there is a logical contradiction contained in the very concept of ‘the largest positive integer’.
We can leverage this argument from Swinburne in support of the second premise of the DISPROOF OF GOD #2:
7. No person ever has or ever will have the best of all possible knowledge.
If person A has more knowledge than person B, then B does NOT have the best of all possible knowledge, other things being equal.  There may be other relevant criteria and considerations, but the amount of knowledge a person has is clearly relevant to determining whether he or she has the best of all possible knowledge.  Given this assumption of the goodness of having more knowledge as opposed to less knowledge, we can invoke a line of reasoning based on Swinburne’s argument against the possibility of there being ‘the best of all possible worlds’.
God, if God exists, has an infinite amount of knowledge about logical possibilities, and perhaps an infinite amount of knowledge about physical possibilities.  But God’s knowledge about what is actual depends on what is in fact actually the case.  If God was the only being in existence, then God would not have any beliefs or knowledge of propositions of the form ‘Such-and-such physical object exists’.   God would not know or believe, for example, that ‘Human beings exist’ because (on this scenario) there would be no human beings.  If the only physical object that existed was a single electron, then God’s knowledge of actually existing physical objects would be limited to his knowledge about that one electron.  God would not believe or know that humans, elephants, planets, or butterflies exist.  Thus, God’s knowledge concerning actual physical objects is limited by what physical objects actually exist.
Suppose a person P creates a world W, and W contains one planet with one ocean and one island with one person living on that island and that planet.  God would know about that planet, that ocean, that island, and that person.  But we can imagine another world W’ which contains two planets, each with one ocean, one island, and one person.  We can also imagine a world W* which contains two planets, each with two oceans, two islands, and two persons on each island.  There is no world that has the highest number of persons or conscious creatures, and there is no such thing as a world with the highest number of physical objects.
The actual world must contain some number of physical objects and persons.  Thus, if the creator of this world knows about every object that actually exists, we can always imagine a world that contains one more object or one more person, and thus we can always imagine a creator that knows about one more object or one more person than the creator of the actual world.  Thus, there is no such thing as a person who has the best of all possible knowledge, because no matter how much knowledge a person P has, we can always imagine another person who has more knowledge than P. Therefore, there is no person who has the best of all possible knowledge, and there never will be such a person.  The concept ‘This person has the best of all possible knowledge’ contains a logical contradiction.
Keith Parsons has doubts about premise (1), so I will make an attempt to defend this premise:
1. Person P is the best of all possible persons only if P creates the best of all possible worlds.
Initially, I was going to present a formal proof, but the logic is a bit complicated. The logic involves both quatification and modality (claims about what is logically possible and logically impossible). So, I’m just going to present my reasoning in an informal way.
First of all, (1) is necessarily true, because it is a conditional statement with an antecedent that is necessarily false. Since the antecedent will be false in all possible circumstances, the conditional statement will always be true.
However, Parsons and others might have doubts about whether the predicate ‘is the best of all possible persons’ really does contain a logical contradiciton, so I would at least need to show that to be the case. Also, even though the conditional statement might technically be true, in relation to standard propositional logic, its truth is somewhat problematic if there is no meaningful conceptual relationship between the antecedent and the consequent. In other words, it is a problematic claim if the antecedent is irrelevant to the consequent.
In any case, it seems to me that (1) is true, and that a plausible argument can be made for (1), so I will try to do so now. I think the key part of my reasoning on this is an inference from what is logically possible for one person to do to a conclusion about it being logically possible that there is some other person who does that same thing.
Suppose that I bake a chocolate cake C. Suppose that C looks good and tastes good. However, the cake is a bit dry. It is physically possible for me to alter the recipe slightly in order to produce a chocolate cake that looks and tastes just as good but that is moist. Thus, it is logically possible that I baked a chocolate cake C’ that looks and tastes just as good as C, but that is moist rather than dry. Thus, it is logically possible that I baked a chocolate cake that is better than the one that I actually baked. Now for the key inference: Therefore, it is logically possible that there is a person Q who is exactly like me, except that Q baked a cake which is better than the cake I actually baked.
If the above reasoning is correct, then I think I can show that premise (1) is true, using similar reasoning. Actually, since I will make use of the assumption that theism is true, I will not be proving (1) to be true, but rather proving (1) to be an implication of theism, that (1) is something a theist must accept as true.
10. There is a person P who is omnipotent and omniscient and who actually created a world w, and w is the best world actually created by P.
(This is an implication of theism.)
11. It is NOT the case that P creates the best of all possible worlds.
(Supposition for conditional derivation).
12. It is logically possible that P created a world w’ which is a better world than w.
(This is based on premises (10) and (11) which imply that it is logically possible for a world to be a better world than w, the world actually created by P.)
13. It is logically possible that there is a person Q who is just like P except that Q created a world w’.
(An inference based on premise (12).)
14. It is logically possible that there is a person Q who is just like P except that Q created a world that is a better world than the best world actually created by P.
(An inference from (13) and (10).)
15. If it is logically possible that there is a person Q who is just like P except that Q created a world that is a better world than the best world actually created by P, then it is logically possible that there is a person Q who is a better person than P.
(This is because the two persons being compared are the same except that one produces a better world than the other, and this seems to clearly be a relevant reason for evaluating the one as being a better person than the other).
16. It is logically possible that there is a person Q who is a better person than P.
(An inference from (14) and (15).)
17. It is NOT the case that P is the best of all possible persons.
(An inference from (16).)
18. IF it is NOT the case that P creates the best of all possible worlds, THEN it is NOT the case that P is the best of all possible persons.
(Conditional derivation from (11) through (16). NOTE: Since the logic here is not strictly propositional logic, this inference is open to challenge.)
19. IF P is the best of all possible persons, THEN P creates the best of all possible worlds.
(An inference from (18). This is the same as premise (1) in my first disproof of the existence of God).

bookmark_borderWhat is humanism?


What is Humanism?


“Humanism” is a word that has had and continues to have a number of meanings. The focus here is on kind of atheistic world-view espoused by those who organize and campaign under that banner in the UK and abroad.


We should acknowledge that there remain other uses of term. In one of the loosest senses of the expression, a “Humanist” is someone whose world-view gives special importance to human concerns, values and dignity. If that is what a Humanist is, then of course most of us qualify as Humanists, including many religious theists. But the fact remains that, around the world, those who organize under the label “Humanism” tend to sign up to a narrower, atheistic view.


What does Humanism, understood in this narrower way, involve? The boundaries of the concept remain somewhat vague and ambiguous. However, most of those who organize under the banner of Humanism would accept the following minimal seven-point characterization of their world-view.

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