A response to Randal Rauser’s criticisms of the Problem of Non-God Objects.


Listeners of the Reasonable Doubts Podcast will know that I (Justin Schieber) often use an argument I sometimes call ‘The Problem of Non-God Objects’.  This argument has gone through many different versions over the last few years.  Put in its most recent, simplified form, the argument goes like this:

 

 

P1: If the Christian God exists, then GodWorld is the unique best possible world.

P2: If Godworld is the unique BPW, then the Christian God would maintain GodWorld.

P3: GodWorld is false because the Universe (or any non-God object) exists.

-Therefore, the Christian God, as so defined, does not exist.

(
Note: The term ‘GodWorld’ refers to that possible world where God never actually creates anything.  This argument takes for granted that God’s initial act of creating the universe (or any non-God object) was a free act and not born out of necessity.)

 

 

Because the Christian God is to be understood as a maximally great being – he must be absolutely and essentially perfect both morally and ontologically.
What is meant by ontological perfection?

There are things called ‘great-making properties’ – things like power, being loving, having knowledge etc.  And God, if he exists, has these properties to their respective maximally compossible degrees.  The words of Christian philosopher, J.P. Moreland can shed some light on this…
 “To say that God is perfect means that there is no possible world where he has his attributes to a greater degree… God is not the most loving being that happens to exist, he is the most loving being that could possibly exist so that God’s possessing the attribute of being loving is to a degree such that it is impossible for him to have it to a greater degree.”
So the question being pressed by the argument is, If the Christian God were to exist, could he possibly have motivating reasons to intentionally create a universe?
I argue no.

 

If God exists, he is the best possible being – meaning he has those great-making properties to their maximal compossible degrees and no such properties to any lessor degree. A world composed entirely of the single best possible being existing alone for eternity would be a world composed entirely of all those great-making properties to their maximal compossible degrees and no such properties to any lessor degree – Now, unless there is some source of unique Goodness – Goodness that exists outside of and fully independent of God then GodWorld must be the unique best possible world.  It is the richest and, quite literally, the godliest of all possible worlds and since no other world can compare, it is the unique best possible world – one that God, if he is maximally great, would certainly maintain.  The empirical fact that there are things that exists that are not identical to God show us that the possible world of GodWorld was not maintained and so the Christian God does not exist.

 

Roughly six months ago, Randal Rauser (RandalRauser.com) wrote a blog post wherein he forwarded several challenges.  Here I want to look at those objections to see if they carry any weight.

 

Randal’s First Objection:
Randal’s first objection is to perform a kind of Moorean shift. Randal argues that because people believe that God is the creator of the universe (Perhaps by philosophical arguments or revelation etc.), they will be more likely to think that something must be wrong with the argument rather than simply accepting its conclusion.
Essentially, Randal rewrites the argument.  But, because of the deductive nature of the argument, Randal still has work to do.  If the argument is valid, then clearly I must be misunderstanding Randal’s particular nuanced version of God in some important way.  Perhaps P2 or P1 is in error?  The entire point of the argument is that, given this particular way of thinking about God and creation, God can not exist. I hope I can be forgiven for not finding the “But God does exist!” response to be one deserving of more attention.

 

 

 

Randal’s Second Objection
:
Randal’s second response is a bit more substantive.  He expresses skepticism that ‘GodWorld’ is a greater possible world than a World where God exists along with the Universe (Or a non-God object).  He injects his skepticism with some horsepower by providing an illustration about muscle car museums.

 

“Imagine two automobile museums devoted to the muscle car. Each museum has a perfect model of every muscle car ever built from the 1964 GTO straight up to the 2013 Shelby Mustang. However, the second muscle car museum also has an unrestored, rusty 1970 Camaro in the backlot. Which is the greater muscle car museum?”



 

Curiously, Randal doesn’t think that either museum has the upper hand.

 

To see why Randal’s intuitions about the car museum are poorly-formed, we need to think about how one might plausibly place relative values upon the particulars of a category like muscle car museums.  The value of any particular muscle car museum must be evaluated according to how well it fulfills the goals and purposes of the general category of muscle car museums.  Relevant factors might include educational value, number of exhibits, aesthetic appeal, average age of the cars, variety of make/model and condition of cars.  Given the fact that both museums are dedicated to fulfilling these goals, and given the fact that the museum with an unrestored, rusty 1970 Camaro in the back lot has more variety of make/model and condition and a greater number of exhibits so, all else being equal, the second museum is clearly better.

 

If Randal was at a fork in the road with each of these museums an equal distance in opposite directions and both were identical outside of the addition of a rusty 1970 Camaro, are we to think that Randal would be totally in a state of indifference as to which one to actually attend?

 

Nonsense.

 

Here is where the analogy to God and possible worlds breaks down.  We evaluated the relative merit of each museum according to how well they fulfill the expectations of that category but that is not at all how we evaluate the relative ontological merits of two worlds consisting of God and a world consisting of God alongside non-god objects.

 

Why?

 

Because, If we take God to be the ONLY instance of essential and absolute moral perfection, moral grounding and the standard of all possible value, then a world where there exists something ontologically distinct from God is a world where there exists something that isn’t morally or ontologically perfect.  A world containing just one non-god object is a world whose overall quality can now be improved as it has been degraded. In GodWorld however, it simply makes no sense to talk about the improvement of absolute ontological perfection.

RD

Comments

  1. hjhornbeck says

    I really love this argument, warts and all, because it’s out of left field yet flows so smoothly from the premises. How did Schieber come up with it, or stumble on it?

  2. M says

    hjhornbeck:

    The argument has a storied lineage, actually, as one can find germs of it in pre-Socratic philosophy, yet it is more explicitly implied in Plato’s works (it tends to bubble up in the works of monist philosophers). However, such concerns surrounding the argument were of prime importance to the early modern philosophers, especially among the continental rationalists and their contemporaries (viz., Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Arnauld, et al.). See the appendix to Part 1 of Spinoza’s book “Ethics” for an early formulation of the aformentioned argument (with his “Theodicy,” Leibniz saw the atheistic implications and struggled to refute them for the rest of his life). From the mouth of the quasi-Spinozist character ‘Demea,’ the latter chapters of Hume’s “Dialogues” are also suggestive of the argument, too. Congrats to Justin for formulating a clear version of it and advancing the argument in a popular forum to the masses.

  3. --bill says

    I thought that medieval theologians (like Aquinas) would argue that the existence of the universe is a necessary conclusion from the existence of God. If God is Love, and Love requires an object other than the Lover, then there must be non-God objects for God to Love.

    At least that’s how I remember it; it’s been a long time.

  4. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    From Randal Rauser (from the link in #1):

    the claim that an omnipotent, perfectly good being can’t exist because if he did then he’d be unable to create anything [resembling the observable universe] is, from the perspective of the theist, [not very] plausible.

    What Schieber’s argument illustrates quite handily is that mere logical validity is cheap. Where Schieber should instead focus his efforts is on validity plus premises that are compelling, or at least moderately plausible, to those who do not already accept the conclusion.

    Hmm, what sort of things are compelling and plausible…
     
    – God privately appeared to me and gave me these etched rocks, again…

    – I was renovating a temple when I found this scroll with extra god-given laws…

    – Here’s an epic I wrote about the life of an incarnation of god. He was very wise. You should learn from his example. I even personally met him in the story, and he vouches for the tale’s authenticity…

    – I am an embodiment of god itself. Er, sort of. And I say…

    – I’m THAT guy you revere. I died centuries ago but have returned to Earth. I say…

    – An angel appeared to me, revealing the location of golden plates…

    – The world’s about to end. Better listen!

    – I got hit in the head with a rock. Now I get visions…

    – I used to drink. Then I stopped. Now I have a strong inner conviction that…

    – God talks to me. Well, he sends feelings. Well, I get an urge to flip through the book and point at passages. It’s spooky…

    – I have no reason to think this guy I read about was lying when HE said that…

    – What I’m about to say makes absolutely no sense. No one could make this up, so it must be true…

    – *Glossolalic syllable stream*

  5. Kurt Helf says

    I see this argument as mental masturbation. Further, I think it provides the Enemies of Reason with undue credibility. See, muscle car museums actually exist and I can show you evidence to back up that claim. In fact, there’s one dedicated to the Corvette not 10 miles from my house. Want to see a ticket stub? A picture of me standing next to the museum’s sign? Please show me similar evidence that supports the existence of god.

  6. says

    I really hope he doesnt go to philadelphia, their fans are worse than jets fans. Tim really needs to go somewhere civilized to have a real chance.

  7. scarecrow says

    One argument against god I’ve wondered about: If god is the maximum in all things how does god value anything? In order to value something you must run the risk of losing it. Values inform morality, (reasons for action) which in turn informs ethics (the actions derived from our morals).

    Your thoughts?

  8. --bill says

    To scarecrow:

    I value mathematics; I don’t run the risk of losing it. So, I don’t see a connection between valuing something and losing it.

    –bill

  9. scarecrow says

    Sure you do, you can suffer any number of brain injuries and be unable to do maths or amnesia and not remember/know you value math.

  10. --bill says

    I said I value math, not doing math.

    Anyway, your proposition was: things that I value are a subset of things I can lose.

    I (currently) value mathematics, and I cannot lose mathematics (barring my death).

    If my values change (referring to your amnesia remark) I might not value mathematics, but I still won’t have lost it.

  11. Rick K. says

    A friend of mine posited the idea of a “parent” that guides its children in ways incomprehensible to them. Sounded interesting until my friend insisted the “parent” was omnipotent, then hinted it was also omniscient and omnibenevolent. Special pleading and then some! I shot down his argument by stating that if humans are the children, we’d all misunderstand the “parent’s” motives equally, so my friend’s argument boiled down to opinion, no more or less valuable than anyone else’s. Without empirical evidence, we can all make up our own stories about how things work. He fell back on the, “You’ve got to have faith to understand this,” defense.

    By the way, “lessor” means one who lets property under a lease. I presume the author meant, “lesser”.

  12. says

    If God is Love, and Love requires an object other than the Lover, then there must be non-God objects for God to Love.

    But that brings the problem that before the creation of the world, God wasn’t truly God at all. I.e. God actively relies on his creation for him to even be God. That means that God is, in a sense, a contingent being, which throws a big wrench in the works for most apologists.

    You could avoid it by appealing to the triune nature of the Christian god and simply claim that the three persons of the Trinity love each other, but then you’re right back to not having any justification for the world again.

  13. JVW says

    To bill:

    I think the word “value” is being understood or used differently by you and scarecrow. You value mathematics in the sense that you find it useful? You love it? You appreciate it?

    I think the intention of the argument was more like saying that I value my children. I can lose my children. I value art. I can lose my ability to do art, or my ability to appreciate art.

    You can lose your ability to do math or appreciate or understand math. There is no sense in which you cannot lose math, even if math continues to exist forever for other people.

    What does god fear to lose? If he can do anything then he can re-create anything he loses. Therefore it is really impossible to comprehend god actually “valuing” anything. It doesn’t make sense.

  14. gedwarren says

    Really? This is a searious arguement? What does perfect even mean? You’ve proved you can babble as well as the rest of them, nothing more.

  15. says

    @gedwarren
    From the opening post:

    What is meant by ontological perfection?

    There are things called ‘great-making properties’ – things like power, being loving, having knowledge etc. And God, if he exists, has these properties to their respective maximally compossible degrees. The words of Christian philosopher, J.P. Moreland can shed some light on this…
    ”To say that God is perfect means that there is no possible world where he has his attributes to a greater degree… God is not the most loving being that happens to exist, he is the most loving being that could possibly exist so that God’s possessing the attribute of being loving is to a degree such that it is impossible for him to have it to a greater degree.”

    Note that this is a definition offered by a Christian. Christian apologists have long appealed to such notions of perfection or a “maximally great being”, so if you’ve got a problem with that, I suggest you go talk to them.

  16. francesc says

    @4
    “If God is Love, and Love requires an object other than the Lover, then there must be non-God objects for God to Love”
    + @6
    “I see this argument as mental masturbation”
    Do I need to say that one can be the subject and the object of love at the same time? Or that god’s rules -against onanism- don’t necessary apply to him?

    Then we could discuss why the maximally lover, and an omnipotent god, would create such a thing as an eternal torture room for the objects of his “love”.

    Or how the omniscience of god is compatible with human’s free will. Either I may change the future, so it is not still written and god doesn’t know it, or I can’t, so I don’t have free will at all. The only way to compromise both is to say that we are machines who, given an input would have a predicted output (yeah, a very loose concept of free will). But then god created some of us knowing and willing to send us to hell forever.

    Now, there is the problem of god being maximally “good”. What does it means? What does it means that god is “maximally fair”? That he has no mercy? But then god is no maximally mercifull. Can he be maximally “every good trait” at the same time, when some of them conflict?

  17. says

    That’s actually a very interesting question. It comes up in standard apologetics in the form of the opposition between mercy and justice. This is often used as an explanation for why the sacrifice of Jesus was necessary; somebody had to pay to validate justice, but god took it upon himself, thus validating mercy.

    One obvious problem with all this is that, if god is omnipotent, why did he make it so that these qualities are even in conflict? That opens up the whole discussion of what omnipotent even means and down the rabbit hole we go.
    That’s what tends to happen when the qualities of an entity are based entirely in conjecture, with no ability to check up on the facts.

  18. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @LykeX #18:

    why the sacrifice of Jesus was necessary; somebody had to pay to validate justice, but god took it upon himself, thus validating mercy.

    I’ve not heard an excuse for killing Jesus that included the word “justice” before.
     
    I get that the simplistic phrase “somebody had to pay” can be associated with “justice”, but what does it mean here?
     
    – A blood sacrifice as an offering to placate an irritable/hungry cosmic monster; sure.
    – Shifting from literal scape-goats, to imbuing a person with the community’s problems and casting him out; okay.
    – Lethal publicity stunt; ehh.
    – People’s non-compliance sins hurt Yahweh’s feelings, so to redress, he victimizes himself further!?
     
     
    Article: Wikipedia – Substitutionary Atonement

    “Christ is a sacrifice by God on behalf of humanity, taking humanity’s debt for sin upon himself, and propitiating God’s wrath.”

    *sigh*
    A Jesus with free-will trying to intervene is one thing, but for Yahweh to go to such lengths just to control his own actions without breaking character seems pretty constrained for an omnipotent being.
     
    So “maximally just” means he has an irresistable compulsion to hurt people when he’s offended?
    That would explain the resemblance to an irritable monster…

  19. says

    I’ve not heard an excuse for killing Jesus that included the word “justice” before.

    Really? I’ve heard that angle a dozen times.
    I think the idea is that going against god’s will is inherently wrong; it’s an offense to god and since god is the greatest good, for such an act to go unpunished is necessarily unjust. Even if god personally doesn’t mind that much, it’s still a grave crime, simply by virtue of having gone against the will of the most perfect being.

    Of course, this basically relies on separating the laws of the universe from god, and that opens up a whole new can of worms concerning the relationship between god and these laws, a la the Euthyphro dilemma.
    I think it’s pretty much just another apologetics dodge. It simply moves the problem another step forward, without actually solving it.

  20. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @LykeX #20:
    Yeah. That part’s familiar.
    I’d seen things like your summary citing justice to explain why [excessive] punishment for sin would be necessary.
     
    But like in that reply, the crucifiction kept getting omitted IIRC. So I missed the connection between justice and “sacrificing himself to himself to create a loophole in the rule he created”. I’d imagine Charon could pay his own boat fare for someone, if he wanted to sidestep his own MO, but it wouldn’t be fair compensation for his rowing.
     
    Anyway, somehow I simply hadn’t noticed the ancient arguments that explicitly use them together, with Jesus awkwardly juggling justice and mercy as omnis.
    Thanks.

  21. Rick K. says

    Somebody or another claims they won the $1 million JREF award, but provide a Depeche Mode music video as their proof of winning? The link on that YouTube page goes to something or another that talks about how someone proved that Doomsday happened on December 21, 2012. Yet we’re still here, in July 2013. I think whoever is just punking us, trying to get hits on their website.

  22. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @Rick K. #25:
    That’s standard stuff from this guy.
    Article: RationalWiki – Dennis Markuze

  23. Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc says

    God loved himself soooo much that he created a universe and made the occupants love him too or he’d infinitely torture them?

    Yeah… that doesn’t sound too needy, does it?

  24. Derek McComiskey says

    The Muscle Car Museum doesn’t sound like a good analogy to me. Part of the quality of a museum is related to quantity. Another exhibit – even if in poor condition – will enhance the museum. Surely the same is not true for something like “maximal greatness”. A better analogy would be something like perfectly pure water. Adding something of lesser quality to it would detract.

  25. lol mahmood says

    I like the non-god objects argument. I’d love to see one of the more prominent apologists – WLC or Plantinga, etc. – try to address it.

Trackbacks

  1. […] has now provided a response to my criticisms of the Problem of Non-God Objects. He calls it “A response to Randal Rauser’s criticisms of the Problem of Non-God Objects.” (What the title lacks in creativity it makes up in good old fashioned communicative […]

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