Friday, March 29, 2013

The Anti-God Argument Industry: J.L. Schellenberg Arguments

 photo pWorlds.png
possible worlds

Over the last couple of decades atheists have been so put up on by God arguments and the success of thinkers such as Plantinga, Alston and Hartshorne that they have become radicalized in their attempts at making anti-God arguments. I have hunch that they basically see God arguemnts as a trick. I've actually seen atheists at the popular level refer to logic as a trick. They don't take God arguments seriously yet seem intimidated by the use of logic. This has led to a plethora of attempted anti-God arguments, disproofs that seek to pit the concepts of religious thinking against each other to produce seeming contradictions. One of the more legigitate academic attempts in this vain is due to the efforts of J.L. Schellenberg, who is a philosopher form Canada. Some of his published works include:

Prolegomena to a Philosophy of Religion. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005.

The Wisdom to Doubt: A Justification of Religious Skepticism. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007

The Will to Imagine: A Justification of Skeptical Religion. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009.

Schellenberg is one of the leading voices in the atheist attempt to flood the net with ant-God arguments hat seek to turn dobout toward conflicting concepts and questions regarding the logic of God arguments. Below are a few examples of his and  other arguments. These are arguments I've seen atheists use on boards that are attributed to Schellenberg. The teaches at Mount Saint Vincent University, in Nova Scotia.

The Argument from Horrific Suffering (J. L. Schellenberg):

Horrific Suffering (def.) = that most awe-full form of suffering that gives the victim and/or the perpetrator a prima facie reason to think that his or her life is not worth living.

(1) Necessarily, if God exists, finite persons who ever more fully experience the reality of God realize their deepest good.
(2) Necessarily, if God exists, the prevention of horrific suffering does not prevent there being finite persons who ever more fully experience the reality of God.
(3) Necessarily, if God exists, the prevention of horrific suffering does not prevent there being finite persons who realize their deepest good. (from 1, 2)
(4) Necessarily, if God exists, there is horrific suffering only if its prevention would prevent there being finite persons who realize their deepest good.
(5) Necessarily, if God exists, there is no horrific suffering. (from 3, 4)
(6) There is horrific suffering.
(7) God does not exist (from 5, 6)

....This argument seems to turn on a hidden premise that God allows suffering and evil so that some ultimate good might exist. That's the really premise as to why God would allow suffering, the argument asserts a second hidden premise that a good God would stop the worse forms of pain and suffering if his aims could be achieved without. It then cliams to know what that ultimate good is, thus asserts the stated premises that the good could be achieved without allowing such suffering. The argument as a whole says God can allow us to know him fully and achieve the highest good without allowing the worst forms of suffering, thus their existence in the world is an arguemnt against God's existence.
....P1 asserts that the greatest good is knowing God: "finite persons who ever more fully experience the reality of God realize their deepest good." It shows asserts that this can happen without the most horrific forms of suffering, thus such forms of suffering in so far as they do exist stand out against God's existence. There's a lot wrong with this argument:

(1) It asserts to know things we don't. We an asserting knowing God is our highest good but how that plays into God's plan for creation we can't assert to know so confidently as to assert to know that it can b acheied without allowing horrifc evil.

(2) It asserts to know that the most horrific forms of evil are not prevented. We don't know the most horrific forms. If God is protecting us and preventing the most horrific forms of evil how can we know? they don't exist in our world so we don't know.

(3) The argument is basically taken out by my soteriological drama which says that God wants us to search for truth so that we can internalize the values of the good. The risk that we make the wrong choices must be open or there's no search. Thus it's  not a matter of balance good against evil, nor is it a matter of needing evil to know good, but of risking evil so we can choose the good freely. In so doing the most horrific forms of evil (that we know of) must be part of the risk. If God habitually prevented the most horrific kinds of evil it would soon become apparent that there is a supernatural force protecting us and there would be no search.

(4) the argument turns upon premise (5) "Necessarily, if God exists, there is no horrific suffering. (from 3, 4)" what does these say?

(3) Necessarily, if God exists, the prevention of horrific suffering does not prevent there being finite persons who realize their deepest good. (from 1, 2)

(4) Necessarily, if God exists, there is horrific suffering only if its prevention would prevent there being finite persons who realize their deepest good.

....P3 is where I get the notion of hidden premises. Why would the prevention of horrific suffering be said to prevent finite persons realizing the deepest good? He must be expecting an answer of this as the reason for the allowing of horrific suffering...yet it doesn't preclude the need to run the risk in order to internalize the values through the search. So the objection stands but in a somewhat different from, one that his argument doesn't prevent. P4 this an explicit statement of what I felt was a hidden premise that the conflict is bewteen realizing the deepest good vs allowing horrific evil. The whole argument turns upon asserting that horrific evil can be prevented and the deepest good be accomplished. We don't need the most horrific evil so good God would not allow it. That doesn't answer the issues that I've raised. That we might question if the most horrific evil does exist, (after all, Hitler didn't win WWII, the cold war didn't produce nuclear war, and George Wallace did not win the 1968 Presidential election) and that there is still need to risk the doing of abhorrent evil in order to necessitate the search.

This next argument is still really a version of the first one, it's just tweaking it to induce the aspect of hiddeness.

Argument from Divine Hiddeness (Also from J.L. Schellenberg):

(1) If a perfectly loving God G exists, then for any human subject S at time t, if S is at t capable of relating personally to G, S at t believes that G exists on the basis of evidence that renders the existence of G probable, except insofar as S is culpably in a contrary position at t.
(2) There exists at least one human subject S who at time t does not believe that G exists on the basis of evidence that renders the existence of G probable and who is not culpably in a contrary position at t.
(3) No perfectly loving God exists.

....He's made it more complex with the use of symbols. I know this is done to make it more efficient to disuses repeated concepts but it doesn't. I have quoted he original argument so I will re word in a way that I think makes it more understandable.
....This argument is essentially saying that if there is an individual who doesn't find God to be real on the basis of evidence then we can asserting there is no loving God because if God was loving he would want everyone to know. There are numerous problems. Again a hidden premise, that God's love means everyone must believe at the same time. Of course the background assumption that we must have instant gratification, life is not a journey so that everyone must believe at all times and have the same outcomes. It would also seem that this argument is made to counter a more traditional view of Christianity that sees hell and damnation and eternal conscious torment as the consequence of unbelief. If we take that result out of the picture and look at life as journey of learning which culminates in our own successful search for the answers, then there is no need to assert that everyone must believe at the same time or there's no good God.
....It would also seem that he's missed the point about hiddeness. If my guess is right and Gods apparent hiddeness is in order to facilitae the search so that we might internallize the values of the good, then there is no ultimate contradiction between God's hiddeness and the need for salvation. The apparent hidden state of God is not an impediment to belief but rather an inducement to search.

This one is not by Schellenberg, but Mark Walker, New Mexico State University.

The Anthropic Argument against the existence of God (Mark Walker):

This argument uses a moral scale. 0 is perfectly immoral and 10 is perfectly moral S is the set of all possible worlds which is populated only by beings greater than 5 on the scale.

(1) God is omnipotent
(2) So, it is possible for God to actualize a member of S
(3) God is omniscient
(4) So, if it is possible for God to actualize a member of S, then God knows that He can actualize a member of S
(5) So, God knows that He can actualize a member of S
(6) God is morally perfect
(7) So, a morally perfect being should attempt to maximize the likelihood of moral goodness and minimize the likelihood of moral evil in the world
(8) If God knows He can actualize a member of S, then every world in which God exists is a member of S
(9) Therefore, every world in which God exists is a member of S
(10) Therefore, if God exists in the actual world then the actual world is a member of S
(11) The actual world is not a member of S
(12) Therefore, an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect God does not exist.

And then there's the Argument from Dwindling Probabilities (Alvin Plantinga) in which he concludes "The conclusion to be drawn, I think, is that K, our background knowledge, historical and otherwise (excluding what we know by way of faith or revelation), isn't anywhere nearly sufficient to support serious belief in G."

An abstract version of the argument from Sophia:

If God is morally perfect then He must perform the morally best actions, but creating humans is not the morally best action. If this line of reasoning can be maintained then the mere fact that humans exist contradicts the claim that God exists. This is the ‘anthropic argument’. The anthropic argument, is related to, but distinct from, the traditional argument from evil. The anthropic argument forces us to consider the ‘creation question’: why did God not create other gods rather than (...)[1]

....Here we have an example of the flawed possible worlds thinking that atheists have employed to overwhelm Plantinga's possible world's argument. I use a version of Plantinga's possible worlds argument on my 42 argument list on Doxa. It's no 14 on my list. The argument essentially says that God is such that he can't just be necessary in one possible word but if he exists he must be necessary in all possible worlds. That means he has to be necessary here,  in this world. the issue is there's nothing to stop the cocnept that God is necessary in all possible worlds. The argument turns upon the premise that there has to be some possible world in which God is necessary. If there is such a world then for him to be God and to be necessary in a true sense he must have to be necessary in all possible worlds, including this one. The issue is that this is mandated, it is the case logically speaking so it' snot something that can be negated if the premise are true. The point of the argument is to drive home the implication of the model argument that there is no maybe with God; either God is necessary or impossible but since he can't be contingent there's no "maybe he exits and maybe he doesn't. He exists for sure or he can't exist logically becuase he's impossible. Thus if he's not impossible then he has to exist.
....The atheists decided what we have to do is come up with a world in which there could not possibly be a God. They assert this can be done by imagining it because the foolishly assume that "possible world" means any world i can imagine. They assume they are imagining such a world by thinking about his one because they dont' believe in God anyway. Since the point is to prove that God must exist in this world that's actually circular reasoning n the atheists part. These anti-God possible world arguments all do this, they assume that the formation of an imaginary world that is imagined without God, without having to work out all the other philosophical details that build God arguments, based upon the pretense that we live in such a possible world (without God--when in fact that's what is under dispute) controls the essence of God and makes him not exist, so to speak. The shape the concept of God around the need to imagine that we are in a possible world in which there is no God.
....The problems with the above arguemnt are several. The argument  is a good example of an arguemnt in when they try to just imagine into existence a possible world of no God becuase they  model it on their disbelief.

(1) It's three arguments in one that each is nested in the other to make it hard to deal with them as one coherent arguemnt. It really should be broken up. It's a moral argument, its about contradictions of omnipotence and omniscience, it's about possible worlds.

(2) The omniscience and omnipotence are used as "plan spikes" (we use to call them in debate) to negate possible answers; God must know this is goign t be the case and has to negate it or he's not just trying becuase he would know and he would be able to. That ignores the real reasons for taking the risk that we make the wrong choices (of course God would know we are going to). Again, my soteriological drama, free will is necessary to morality so that we may freely choose the good; we can't make moral decisions without freely choosing to. Not a matter of God not knowing it, it's a matter of having to take the risk because we must be allowed to choose; they never calculate the fact that God can understand the balance sheet and see that it's worth it. That point alone destroys the whole argument.

(3) the argument turns upon this premise: (9) "Therefore, every world in which God exists is a member of S. S is the perfectly moral world populated only by those whose morality exceeds 5. He doesn't use the scale in the actual argument. We also don't know the values that make up the scale so that might tip the argument if we knew what he was calculating.

(4) P9 is the turning point and it means it's also the defeat of the argument. It's based upon the question begging premise. To be true P9 must assert the conclusion of the argument to make the argument, that God would only allow possible worlds with S content. If god must risk our evil choice as a matter of our freely choosing the good they can  hardly restrict planetary formation to S worlds.

(5) The argument doesn't account for the search. It's assumes static worlds where everyone has achieve moral perfection at the same time. It doesn't take life as a journey or individual lives as individual searches for truth. Everyone has to be in the same place at the same time.

(6) Edward Feser has some important things to say about these possible worlds arguments; they have it backwards, the essence of God is not controlled by possible worlds.

It is also often said that for God to be a necessary being is for Him to exist in every possible world. This too is at least very misleading. It leaves the impression that there are these things called “possible worlds” that have some kind of reality apart from God, and it turns out – what do you know! – that God happens to exist in every one of them, right alongside numbers, universals, and other necessarily existing abstract objects. To be sure, since possible worlds other than the actual one are themselves mere abstractions (unless you are David Lewis), they would not exist as concrete entities that God has not created. But the “possible worlds” account of God’s necessity nevertheless insinuates that that necessity is grounded in something other than God Himself – that what is possible or necessary in general is to be determined independently of God, with God’s own necessity in turn defined by reference to these independent criteria. For A-T, this is completely muddled. The reason God is necessary is that He is Pure Act or Subsistent Being Itself, not because He “exists in every possible world.” And since God just is Being Itself – rather than “a being” among other beings, existing in one possible world or in all – all possibilities and necessities whatsoever are themselves grounded in the divine nature, rather than in anything in any way independent of God.[2]

....All of these argumetns, this entire approach, the moral conflicts anti-God arguments the possible worlds anti-God argumetns, with their attempt to control God's essence by indexing it to possible worlds rather than vice versa, it's a grand example of what Tillich talked about when he said that if we know being has depth we know God has to be. That means if there is more to being alive and existing thus just the mere fact of existence then we know there has to be God becuase God is the depth of being, God is that "more to it." The atheist thinking on this score is a good example of what Tillich talks about when he speaks of the "surface level." The atheist says life is just a straight up proposition of it exists or it doesn't, either the world is morally perfect as an extension of a moral perfect creator or it's not, in which case there is no morally perfect creator. That's just the surface level of existing or not existing. It fails to take into account the meaning of life, the meaning of what it means to be. What it means to be is to be the creature of a necessary creator, thus our contingency is proof of a transcendent necessity that makes the "something more."
....They can't assert that their unbelief is proof of a Godless universe then use that as a proof of a possible world of no God, especially when they mere ignore the depth in being that tell us there more to being than just the surface issue of apparent existence. The nature of possible worlds does not determine the nature of God, it is God who determines possible worlds. Philospher J.N. Findlay was the first to tray and reverse the ontological argument as a disproof of God. He admitted at the time that Hartshorne had convienced him that his argument led to a ready inversion that this is what set up the realization that if God is at all possible then he must be necessary. The original attempt winds up in disproof of the reversal and brings the modal argument back rightly.

Professor Hartshorne has, however, convinced me that my argument permits a ready inversion, and that one can very well argue that if God's existence is in any way possible, then it is also certain and necessary that God exists, a position which should give some comfort to the shade of Anselm. The notion of God, like the notion of the class of all classes not members of themselves, has plainly unique logical properties, and I do not now think that my article finally decides how we should cope with such uniqueness.[3]
That's still the case now and it will always be so.

[1] Mark Walker, "Anthropic Argument Againt the Existence of God," Sophia, 48 (4) 351-378

[2] Edward Feser, "God and Possible Worlds," Edward Feser Blog (June 6, 2010): URL:

[3] J.N. Findlay, "Can God's Existence Be Disproved?" Di Text URL:


yonose said...

I also see the common problems when dealing with such arguments for atheism.

The explicit pattern seen is sadly evident.

But what still seems a bit strange for me even these days, is that any time I see such arguments, they remind me the protocol-like usage of the scientific method.

Analogously, I humbly think that such arguments take some rather unusual approach, like the application of the scientific method, deductively. It is common to find in "non-exact" and "exact" branches of sciences alike, a whole bunch of apparently arbitrary "what-ifs", which are necessary for the proposal of new theories, which, by their correct usage and experimentation, would epistemologically and phenomenologically deny any previous, contradicting theory which was posited. Of course, it to be noted that unfortunately, this is NOT how science works nowadays, but this is another topic to be discussed in another occasion... is common for proponents of atheism, to make such observations by totally ignoring the first principles, related to the understanding of the metaphysical (Atheism, as "old" as "new" allows to do so for the mere sake of the belief, whether unwarranted, or not). Such arguments ultimately fail to confront the epistemological reliability regarding a philosophically metaphysical view, so, as always demonstrated, Atheism, generally but not broadly speaking, is not mere disbelief nor mere denial, but a matter of forceful rejection to the acceptance of a logically correct view of the metaphysical (specially related to Judeo-Christian religions), and a forceful rejection of the acceptance of any empirical plausibility related to the discussion of the Mystical Experience.

Kind Regards.

Kind Regards.

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

I know what you mean about them treating science like a formality. Yet I see the problem differently. they are trying to turn deductive reasoning in the empirical. The possible world's thing they are trying make it like thought experiment and then use the "findings" to determine concepts of the deductive.

yonose said...


Yours is also a valid approach, indeed. I wonder if it is correctly interpreted to think of such methods as "externalizing the empirical"?

Kind Regards.

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

thanks. I appreciate it. But deductive reasoning doe snot require empirical backing. My big crusade is for the validation of other forms of knowledge (besides science).