God’s Multiverse?

Mere Creation

Beatrice: We spoke before about the problem of evil. I’d like to talk about a new defence:

First, I’d want to say that, even if there is no justification of the evils we see in the world, that they are nonetheless outweighed by the goods. The world is (pace the anti-natalists or negative utilitarians) net positive, 1 and the objection raised by the problem of evil is not that God did a bad thing in making the world, but rather fell far short of moral perfection.

Adam: And the second consideration?

Beatrice: The second is that it is good to bring positive things into existence. This can be weaker than a Total-view-esque it is as good to bring positive things into existence than it is to improve existing things by the same amount: just something like, “Given the option, it is better (ceritus paribus) to bring something good into existence”. 2

Adam: Okay. Where are you going? Continue reading

Notes:

  1. Beatrice: I guess you might want to say that the world including its entire future will be net-positive, and so that entails optimism about how the future is going to go.
  2. Beatrice: I think this is generally plausible, but Theists should be particularly sympathetic. After all, if this were not true, why would God create anything?

God, evil, and appearance

Adam: Consider this:

Neil and Kazumi Puttick, and their son Sam were, by all accounts, an idyllic family. One friend said: ‘If you could bottle up a perfect marriage, theirs would be it’. They were involved in a car accident in 2005. Kazumi’s legs and pelvis were broken. Sam – then 18 months old – had his spine severed at the neck. He would have died were it not for two doctors who happened to be passing by. After being rushed to hospital, Neil and Kazumi were told that Sam’s injuries were catastrophic. Neil was defiant:

I believe in my heart the doctors are wrong and he will win. I believe God is with us and Sam will walk, talk, and breathe again. He was a miracle when came to us, it was a miracle when he survived the crash and it will be a miracle when he recovers. These things do happen and they will happen to Sam.

Sam survived, and although he didn’t recover from paralysis, flourished in all other respects. Neil and Kazumi quit their jobs to devote their time looking after Sam and raising money for his care. The local community pitched in too: one of the things they did was take photographs of themselves from all over the world holding cards saying ‘Hi Sam!’ which Sam enjoyed immensely. Later the local government agreed to pay the costs of Sam’s medical care. Neil and Kazumi continued their work, now directed towards raising awareness of spinal injuries. Sadly, the story doesn’t end there.

Three years after the accident ( just after he’d started at school) Sam contracted pneumococcal meningitis, a highly virulent and aggressive infection. Despite intensive care, it became clear there was no hope of survival. Neil and Kazumi took him back home, and he died shortly afterwards.

Beachy Head is a notorious suicide blackspot, so much so a chaplaincy has been set up expressly to patrol the cliffs and counsel those contemplating whether to jump. Despite this, no one saw two figures wearing rucksacks who leapt to their deaths late at night. The bodies were discovered the following morning. They were Neil and Kazumi Puttick. Sam’s body was in one their rucksacks; the other contained his toys.

The ‘problem of evil’ can mean many different things. It could be a moral problem: ‘What should we do to stop the evil things in the world?’ It could be a motive for existential crisis: ‘How can we bear to live in a world with so much that is evil?’ It could be an obstacle to religious faith: ‘How can I love a God that lets these evil things occur?’ The sort of ‘problem’ I want to talk about is really an argument, that starts from the existence of evil, and ends up concluding that there is no God. Awful stories like the Putticks’ are meant to demonstrate we do not live under the watchful benevolence of God, but rather in one of blind, pitiless indifference to our wellbeing. Continue reading

Why you shouldn’t believe the resurrection happened

The 12th (and final) part in “20 Atheist answers to questions they supposedly can’t.”

  1. What accounts for the empty tomb, resurrection appearances and growth of the church?

Short answer: We shouldn’t be that confident of these facts, but in any case the base rate fallacy and selection bias nixes the confirmatory power.

Longer answer: The argument implied in the question is that the historical record of Jesus provides strong evidence to believe he actually died and rose again, which provides evidence that Christianity’s central claims (e.g. God exists, Jesus is the son of god) are true. The question neatly summarizes the three main ‘planks’ of evidence usually offered:

  1. The Empty Tomb. When Jesus died, his body was placed in a tomb. Not only was a stone rolled in front of it, but also the authorities posted sentries outside the tomb to stop anyone stealing the body. Despite this, the stone was discovered to be rolled away, and the body had gone. (e.g. Mark 16:4, Luke 24:2-3)
  2. Resurrection appearances. Several different groups of people (the disciples, some women, etc.) are reported to have seen Jesus after he died. (e.g. Luke 24:15-31, 36-48; Matthew 28:9-10)
  3. The growth of the church. After Jesus died, his apostles (and figures like Paul) were committed to the message of Jesus, and helped the church spread rapidly. (cf. Acts, but also the historical record re. the Holy Roman empire, etc.)

The idea is this data is very hard to explain via purely atheistic means. Maybe Jesus didn’t really die, but is it plausible he could have got up and escaped the guarded tomb after being crucified and speared for good measure? Maybe the disciples managed to steal the body, but how did they manage to get that past the guards? (And what was in it for them? Why would many of them go on to die for a belief they knew to be false?) Maybe the appearances of the resurrection were just hallucinations, but how could there have been so many hallucinations, of so many different people, and why didn’t the authorities just squash the story by presenting the public with Jesus’s corpse?

So, it’s argued, the best explanation for the historical data is the Christian one: Jesus rose from the dead and left the tomb miraculously, and then appeared to people like the apostles and women who visited the tomb, and these people, convinced by the truth, to go on and grow the church. Continue reading

Atheist prayer experiment, week 5: Should you hope there is a god?

We’ve seen so far that Mawson’s recommendation that atheists should pray is along the right lines: so long as you don’t think prayer is too likely to lead to self delusion, and the costs for the added information are smaller than the benefits, it seems a good idea to pray. It also seems that negative results are valuable: if Atheist prays and gets no answer, that is further evidence their atheism is correct. Here’s another question: should Atheist hope there really is a God after all?

Given what we’ve said above, it seems atheist should hope to be made aware of god if he exists. Believing the right thing about God’s existence is likely a good thing ‘either way’, and particularly good if God does exist. Yet whether atheist should hope God exists is slightly different: should atheist think that a world with god is somehow richer or more valuable than one without god – and, if so, is it worth hoping that is what really obtains, even if the evidence speaks against it? Continue reading

Atheist prayer experiment: Week 4 – What if there’s no answer?

Nothing much happened this week. So, instead, lets talk about divine hiddenness:

It is implied by the rationale for doing the ‘prayer experiment’ that although a ‘positive result’ has value (“Oh, God exists after all!”), a negative result where nothing happens also is a worthwhile result, as it acts as confirmation for one’s atheism. How good is the evidence that no God gets in touch after 40 days for there being no god there? Continue reading

Atheist Prayer Experiment: Week 3 – why pray, anyway?

Personal update: I have been finding praying pretty difficult in the last week or so. It has been hard keep my mind on prayer rather than wandering elsewhere after the initial mental recitation. Similarly, I have generally failed to keep the regimented pattern I would like – not every evening, but scattered throughout the day.

I have noticed nothing. Life continues as before, and nothing in particular has suggested that God is smiling on me or getting in touch – if anything, I’ve been mildly more worldy and stressed than the usual. Time will tell.

My college chaplain has the misfortune of knowing me, and she recommended I give some other ‘ways’ of praying a go: lectio divinia, and turning up to evening prayer. Being kergmatically ‘up for anything’ I have tried the former this week, and will try the latter soon.

To pass the time, let’s talk about the philosophical rationale behind this ‘Atheist Prayer Experiment’.

Praying to stop being an Atheist?

Continue reading

If Atheism, wither moral facts? (Or moral faculties?)

Part 9 in 20 Atheist answers to questions they supposedly can’t

12. How do we account for conscience?

13. On what basis can we make moral judgements?

Short answer: Evolutionary psychology for one, and naturalist can take moral realism or plump for anti-realist accounts and it’s no big deal.

Longer answer: Ethics and atheism are seldom considered natural bed-fellows, and morality is a common stick to beat atheists with. So how (and how much) is morality a problem for atheism? Continue reading

If most people believe God exists, shouldn’t you?

Part 11 in 20 atheist answers to questions they supposedly can’t.

How do we account for the nearly universal belief in the supernatural?

Short answer: In a similar way one would account for the majority belief that Christianity is false: widespread error.

Longer answer: Atheism/agnosticism/’nones’ remain a minority of the population in the developed world (albeit one which is growing). If we look worldwide, and across history, we see that almost all people thought there was something supernatural. Is this evidence against naturalism? Continue reading

Why believe our minds work, on atheism?

Part 6 in 20 atheist answers to questions they supposedly can’t

9. How is independent thought possible in a world ruled by chance and necessity?

Short answer: I’ll tell you once you’ve finished beating your wife. (Evolution selects for truth-directed faculties, so it is no surprise we get them on naturalism).

Longer answer: The argument here is twofold. Firstly, that atheism cannot account for our sense of having independent thought (and so this is evidence against it), and secondly that ‘independent thought’ is some pre-requisite for having justified beliefs, and naturalism undermines that. The first line of argument I’ll deal with consciousness and free will later. The second argument is a not-very-strong version of the evolutionary argument against naturalism. So let’s talk about that instead. Continue reading