Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Rational, Pragmatic and Prudential Argument for Believing in God

[Note: This is NOT an argument for the existence of God, but for belief in God]

One of the most famous arguments against the existence of God is the one attributed first to Epicurus. Though, some that question to that attribution. It's the deductive version of the Problem of Evil (PoE).

    If an all-powerful and perfectly good god exists, then evil does not.
    There is evil in the world.
    Therefore, an all-powerful and perfectly good god does not exist.

Here's another version:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?

Philosophers today generally don't believe the argument is valid or sound. William Lane Craig has addressed this issue numerous times (for example, HERE and HERE)

With the above argument acknowledged, here's an attempt [weak as it might be] to argue for the rational, pragmatic and prudential obligation to believe in the existence of God.

#1 An all good, all wise, all powerful god who is the standard, exemplar and transcendent legislator of morality can be conceived (hereafter, "God" possessing such attributes).

#2 Such a God hasn't been proven conclusively to be impossible or to not exist using the a) deductive/logical argument for the non-existence of God based on the problem of evil [generally attributed to Epicurus], b) the inductive/empirical argument against God's existence based on gratuitous evil. c) [or] any other argument including the demonstration that the (various) concept(ions) of God is logically incoherent.

#3 Belief in such a God provides the best grounding for morality as well as deterrent for evil thus far offered.

#4 Such a God may a) provide rewards for moral rectitude/righteousness in a promised afterlife [as is suggested by various world religions], b) provide future compensation for evils experienced in this life to some or all, c) provide just/righteous punishment for all evils committed in an appropriate manner, and therefore provides motivation for living a virtuous (rather than a villainous) life.

#5 Monotheistic theism (e.g. Christianity, Islam, Judaism) like that described above with the attributes of "God" (per #1) can pose the greatest existential threat in the afterlife when compared to other worldviews and philosophies of life.

#6 The a) public/civil and b) private good of people both in this life and a possible afterlife is, thus far, supremely (among other things) grounded in (as a foundation) both a private (i.e. individual) and corporate (i.e. public) belief in the existence of such a God.

#7 Such a God, being good and the foundation of morality would require us to believe in Him and live uprightly in keeping with that belief.

#8 Both in the present and past there have been numerous alleged testimonies of seemingly supernatural or paranormal events and/or experiences (sometimes made by credible witnesses) that call into question standard & normative materialism/naturalism, and all (or nearly all) of them can be explained within or be interpreted to be consist with monotheism. Of all the millions of alleged events/experiences it is not likely that absolutely all of them can be explained away in a naturalistic and materialistic way. These events and experiences happen in nearly all cultures, religions/worldviews/philosophies of life, intelligence levels, education levels, locations/geographies, ages (from very young children to the elderly), eras (from the distant past to the present) et cetera.

For example, according to Christianity reincarnation is false. Nevertheless, Christianity can provide possible accounts for how under hypnosis some people may be able to provide accurate information that would seem to confirm a prior past life since the information would have been nearly impossible to have been previously acquired by the subject through natural means. Taking Christianity as an example, from its perspective, such a person may be unwittingly being fed supernatural information by a demon who lived in the distant past and would therefore be privy to that item of information. Other examples of the supernatural and/or paranormal include claims of "ghosts", miracles, supernatural healing, angelic visitations, demonic possession, non-naturalistically derived information as in clairvoyance, UFOs, apparitions of fairies (or elves, jinn various cryptids etc.), psychic abilities, Near Death Experiences, Out of Body Experiences, Astral Projection, Remote Viewing, Alien Abduction, psychokinesis and telekinesis, translocation/bilocation, psychometry, precognition et cetera.

Conclusion: Therefore people are pragmatically, rationally and prudentially [and possibly morally] obligated to believe in, or at least strive to believe in God's existence and to promote such a belief rather than oppose it in public.

This is similar to Kant's argument for the existence of God
[ ↑ recommended article ↑ ]

Many forms of moral argument for God's existence are variations on the following format.

Argument V:

    Morality is a rational enterprise.
    Morality would not be a rational enterprise if there were no moral order in the world.
    Only the existence of God traditionally conceived could support the hypothesis that there is a moral order in the world.
    Therefore, there is a God.

However, my conclusion is more modest because it doesn't conclude that therefore God must exist.

My argument is also similar to Pascal's Wager
See the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's article; as well as William Lane Craig on the Wager

Also notice the argument is formulated in such a way that one doesn't need to address (or is unnecessarily bogged down by):

- which monotheistic religion is true
 - the nature of the future punishment and whether it's eternal or temporal (e.g. annihilationism vs. traditionalism on the issue of hell)

- which sacred book(s) are divinely revealed
- scriptural inerrancy
- the numbers and percentages of the saved or lost in the afterlife (hence avoiding the issues of universalism, inclusivism, particularism, exclusivism etc.)
- issues for which there can be legitimate disagreement
- how to reconcile the various tensions involved in belief in the existence of God because it can appeal to mystery and/or human ignorance without violating any laws of logic (i.e. exploiting the fact that [this particular] God's existence [with these attributes] hasn't been proven logically, empirically or scientifically impossible).
-the problem of doxastic voluntarism.

How the premises are susceptible to refutation.

Regarding #1. Most people can conceive of such a God, the question is whether there's an underlying logical contradiction in such a conception of God. That leads us to #2.

Regarding #2. Most knowledgeable modern philosophers would agree with #2. So, the burden is on atheists to finally provide an argument that conclusively demonstrates why Epicurus' "Trilemma" is sound, or the inductive argument is coherent. So, it seems that ultimately the rationality, pragmatism,  and prudential wisdom of my argument will eventually butt heads with atheism's arguments from pragmatism, probability and emotion. All of which usually depends on attacking a specific conception of a God like the God of the Old Testament, the God of the New Testament (whom Christians believe to be the same God), the Islamic God or other similar God with the "omni" attributes. Atheists seem to confuse their repugnance of the Christian, Jewish or Islamic conception of God with any possible God "omni"-attributed God. But that's a non-sequitur. By the way, I think one can defend the plausibility and justice of the Christian God. It's just not the intent of my argument to address it at the moment.

Regarding #3. To refute this argument, the atheist must prove an argument that shows that a version of atheism can provide as good as or better grounding for morality than does the conception of God provided in my argument. Or disprove that God could be the proper grounding of morality. Until they do so, this premise stands.

Regarding #4. It's a fact that various religions teach a future afterlife or rewards and punishments. That can't be denied by atheists. All atheists can do is argue against the promise of rewards or the fear of punishment (as a deterrent, cf. #3) as a legitimate motivation for living a righteous life and practicing restraint when it comes to evil impulses and desire. But that assumes that that's the only possible motivations. In the Christian tradition, there are other motivations like gratitude, thanks, trust in the wisdom of God's Commandments and His providential faithfulness to work all things for the good of those who love Him (cf. Rom. 8:28).

Regarding #5. The atheist would have to provide an alternative worldview that poses as much or greater existential threat than the various monotheisms. Also, the atheist can argue that the problem is that even if we accept #5, it doesn't tell us which of the various monotheistic religions is the true religion. They would point out that one may choose the wrong monotheistic religion. However, through inductive and deductive argumentation, one can still nevertheless sort out which monotheism is most probably true (of those one has noetic access to and can examine) by figuring out which comports most with all that we do know of the external world, along with logical consistency and coherency.

Regarding #6. Like #3, the atheist would have to make a case for a version of atheism that can provide as good as or better foundation upon which the good of humanity can be grounded. Nevertheless, even if such a thing could be provided, the remainder of my argument wouldn't be affected. That is, my argument could still work if premise #6 were removed. Nevertheless, even many atheists have argued that without God nihilism necessarily follows (including moral/ethical nihilism).

Regarding #7. This might be the Achilles' Heel of the argument. Atheists could argue that there is no good reason for why God would expect and require us to believe in Him. Moreover, that there are good reasons for why God, if He existed, doesn't have a right to expect or require us to believe in Him (viz. because He hasn't provided sufficient evidence for His existence). Or that nothing in the conception of God presented would logically entail that God would require us to believe in Him. That is, God could still expect us to live righteously and will reward/punish us even if we didn't believe in Him while on earth. Though, I think it makes some intuitive sense that God would have such an expectation. Especially if, God really were the foundation of morality, and God knowing we're rational creatures who would (or at least rationally should) conclude that He is that foundation (even if we didn't have access to a divine revelation that explained that).

Regarding the conclusion. Admittedly, this an inductive argument (that addresses probability) not a deductive argument (with certainty as the goal). Nor does the conclusion necessarily follows from the premises. But I think the gist of the argument has intuitive force. It's strength is in the fact that such a God can be conceived even if we don't know all the details. In which case, we're all, in some sense, obligated to (at the very least strive to) believe in such a God. And if we don't, we're going against our own reason, self-interest, and admitted ignorance and inability to provide conclusive proof as to why God cannot exist.

Regarding the issue doxastic voluntarism, it maybe true that one cannot choose to believe something (especially if they believe there are defeaters to the belief). However, IF it's the case there is no conclusive disproof of God, and if one is persuaded by the argument that belief in God (or at least striving to; or having a willingness to believe) is rational, practical and prudential; then that might lead to the person eventually coming to believe in God (for other rational and/or psychological reasons).

For example, entertaining a belief in a multiverse even though there's no positive evidence for it can lead people to hope for its existence. Even to actually believe in it's likelihood (as some physicists do). Another example. A person might be inclined to believe that internet dating cannot lead to a healthy long lasting marriage. But, if the person were willing to entertain the possibility, he/she might take steps to "try it out" and thereby actually finding such a relationship. Similarly, God is not vending machine one can "test" by placing a coin in (analogous to prayer or obedience) to see if one will get what one expects.

Rather, God is a person and the Bible teaches that if we would draw near to God, God will draw near to us. And just like any other relationship, it takes time to cultivate. Just as one cannot makes demands in a relationship with a King, President, Emperor, so one cannot make demands on God. Nevertheless, God does condescend to have a relationship with us if we would go about it by faith. As the Bible says, "But without faith, it is impossible to please God. Because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who diligently/earnestly seek Him" (Heb. 11:6).

No comments:

Post a Comment