RD Extra: A Skeptical Review of Religious Prosociality Research with Luke Galen

This RD extra features a lecture by Luke Galen “A Skeptical Review of Religious Prosociality” delivered to CFI Michigan June 26th 2013

It is often suggested that religion leads individuals to be more prosocial, that is, more cooperative, generous, friendly, and happy. A commonly held belief is that “religion makes better neighbors”. However, a closer examination of the research supporting these claims yields important qualifications to this relationship. Dr. Galen will offer some common examples of these types of studies and invite the audience to ask critical questions regarding the types of conclusions that can be drawn from the “religion makes you good” literature.

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And for everyone who asked for references…get a load of this:


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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?




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.




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.