Atheism's Arguments Against God? - Michael Almeida

Michael Almeida - Philosophy of Religion

Michael Almeida

Mike Almeida is Professor of Philosophy and chair of the Department of Philosophy and Classics at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

 

Full Profile >
Contributor

Michael
Almeida

Philosopher, University of Texas, San Antonio

Transcript

View TranscriptHide TranscriptDownload Transcript (PDF)Select All and Copy To Clipboard
Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

Mike, I really want to know whether God exists. And I think often the best thing to do is not to ask theists about what their best arguments are, but to ask atheists what their best arguments are, and see if they hold up. I enjoy that actually more. So I want to ask you, I know as a biased person because you're a theist, but I want you to tell me what you think the best atheistic arguments are, and how you would try to undermine them.

Michael Almeida:

So yeah there are a lot of good atheistic arguments, and the best maybe are arguments like what I call the logical problem of no best world. That is, atheists will argue that since there isn't a best world of all the possible worlds, God can't exist because he would have to create the best one. There is no best one, there is no God. It goes that way. Incidentally that works the other way too, but we can come back to that. There's the argument that this world is not the best possible world. That some atheists still think things like God by nature would have to create the best possible world and this isn't it. I think that's an especially powerful argument, that this is not the best world because it's only the real heroic theists who will defend the view that this is the best world. I mean it's just so obvious that it isn't, you know? There are atheistic arguments from gratuitous evil, where again, the atheist says, well look, even if God is compatible with some kinds of evil ...

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

From free will or whatever.

Michael Almeida:

Yeah. He's not compatible with the kind of evil we find here. Right, gratuitous I just mean pointless. Right, and when you begin to think about it, it's not hard to come up with all sorts of evils that are just have no point. It doesn't have to be the grand evils we all know about. There are huge evils in the world, no question. But even I like to think of smaller ones. Like there couldn't be a point to it. So you wake up in the morning and you stub your toe. There's a point? There isn't any point. I'm suffering. It's small, but still I'm suffering. There's a lot of that, and it's kind of hard for the theist to say no, there isn't any gratuitous evil, not even those are gratuitous evil, come on. So the theist has to say, I think with respect to those arguments, to reply to them which is makes it so hard, that okay God can exist with gratuitous evil. You've got to concede that. I think there's no way around that, right? So that's a hard position to take given traditional view of the nature of God. That He wouldn't allow things like that. Not just evils but ones that serve no greater purpose whatsoever to allow those too. So all of those are sort of really forceful arguments. I still think the logical problem of evil is pretty forceful. I find it hard to reply to it, and I have a reply, but I don't think it's simple to reply to it. There are really good counter-arguments on the atheistic sides against those arguments, so it takes a lot of intellectual effort and work to make a cogent argument that, you know, the atheist will find credible. So you're not making these assumptions where they say, you know, I would never believe that to begin with. You're not going to convince me that way. You want an argument that's going to sort of – here's the best way to run these arguments. You get on their playing field. This is the way I like to argue. I want to get on the atheistic playing field. Grant them their assumptions, play on their field and beat them there. If you can do that, then you've got a great argument and it's really hard with these arguments.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

So let's just array these arguments. You talked about argument of this is not the best possible world, this is not a good enough world.

Michael Almeida:

Yes.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

The logical problem of evil, the gratuitous or evidential problem of evil. Are there some – when you now go after them and try to undermine them, are there some general principles that you use that could energize all of these?

Michael Almeida:

Yeah, I think the way to go here is to – is an observation about what's possible for God to do. And it's a bit remarkable that it hasn't been – it's got to be somewhere in the literature. Someone must have thought it before but I think look, there's this obvious point that God could not necessarily make the best – for example the best world. Right? This is their view. God by nature must, now it's a modal claim, make the best possible world. Well imagine what that would be like. Suppose that were true. He necessarily makes the best world. That means there's one world. One possibility. So if there's just one world, there isn't anyone who's free in it. There isn't any moral good. Right? So maybe there's no natural evils in it. Maybe He can get that. But that world's not going to be the best. It's not going to be best, right? Even though He tries to do it. Because He doesn't have any of the moral good in that world.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

Because by forcing it to be the best, and that's His only alternative, it is absolutely determined in a rigorous state.

Michael Almeida:

Yes.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

And that eliminates the possibility for true morality or free will.

Michael Almeida:

It's basically self-defeating. It's like God would defeat His own purposes in this respect: He necessarily creates, tries to make the best possible world. What happens if He does that necessarily, inevitably it will be less than the best. It has to be. Because as soon as it's one world, you lose all these sources of value that you would have had if you had these other worlds too. Right? So it's really kind of interesting; the value of some possible worlds depends on there being other worlds. Right? It's not just that world alone...

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

Because that gives you the flexibility. That gives you the ability to add your own human creativity, free will, opportunity, uncertainty; all these things that build character or build...

Michael Almeida:

Exactly, yes. I mean think of it this way, right. Think of those occasions when you constrain your behavior. You say, you know, I really want that pen, but I'm not going to take it. I'm going to constrain myself. I'm going to – I'm not going to do it. You think, I'm proud of you, Almeida. You didn't take the pen. The only reason you're proud of that is because there's a world out there in which I was unconstrained. Right? I did stop myself from realizing a world that's really possible.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

Right, because it was possible that you could have done something.

Michael Almeida:

Exactly. So this world, what's a source of value? What's great about this world – one of the good things about this world is that Almeida didn't take the pen. Right? That's a good thing. And he could have done it. Now, it wouldn't be so great if Almeida didn't take the pen and he couldn't have done it anyway. So what's great about that? You know. But because there's this other world out there, this world goes up in value. Which is – it's a little strange to think about but I think it's true.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

And that applies to the problem of evil.

Michael Almeida:

Yes.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

It applies to the logical problem of evil.

Michael Almeida:

Definitely.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

And how about the gratuitous problem of evil? The evidential problem of evil?

Michael Almeida:

Yeah I think it happens – I think it helps there, too. Because again, that – there may be no greater purpose to my inflicting some suffering on someone. Imagine I do that. So God's up there saying look, I wish you wouldn't do it. Okay, but I've created this perfect world in which you've constrained yourself, you don't do things like that. And what's so wonderful about this world in which people don't do things like that, is that their constraint really matters. They could have done it. Okay? So go to that other world in which I do it. Is there some greater point? No. There's no point to it. It's just that God's up there regretting it. I wish you hadn't done that. You know I had to let you do it, because the value of this world depends on there being worlds like that.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

So, as you look at this collection of arguments that atheists use that have the same sort of feel to them, whether it's evil or best possible worlds...

Michael Almeida:

They all do. It's true.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

Challenging God's creative process and looking for internal contradictions.

Michael Almeida:

Definitely.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

I mean that's the key. If you get an internal contradiction with the concept of God, then something's wrong with the concept of God including the whole thing.

Michael Almeida:

Yes.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

So what's your summary of the whole...

Michael Almeida:

I think that point is really important that you just made. The kind of – those arguments are always... every one of these atheistic arguments go to the point of showing that God could not exist. Because they're try – they go into an inconsistency. They're trying to show it's somehow inconsistent. If it's not logically, it's at least broadly logically inconsistent that there should be a being like this, and that there should be a possibility like this. So they're just looking around at worlds, too, like we are. They're looking around thinking, okay there couldn't – if God is this way there couldn't be a world out there anywhere in which there's gratuitous evil. There couldn't be a world, the logical problem says, in which there's any evil at all. There couldn't be a world that's less than the best. It's always the whole of logical space. And so that invites the response. As soon as they start doing that, the response is, well, I have to look at all what logical space would look like if you were right. Because your view has implications not just for the actual world, but for all the worlds. Right? And so that's the response I make that and that – it works. In fact, I think it's successful.