James Lazarus has posted the following remarks at his blog:
Some More Plausible Atheistic Arguments.
I was asked by one anonymous reviewer of this blog and by a friend of mine to discuss some atheistic arguments that I regard as persuasive. The three that I've been thinking about most often lately are discussed below.
(1) A Problem of Causal Efficacy
The first problem that I have arises from the nature of God and his relation to the world. God is a spiritual being - i.e he does not have physical properties, but properties of a wholly different sort, in a different ontological category than the space-time universe. At the same time, God, as our Creator, is responsible for our existence. The question then, is how a spiritual being, who is of a wholly different nature from the physical, can possibly interact with the physical and have causal efficacy for physical states of affairs. It is hard to imagine how this could work. In fact, I believe that there is a similar objection against substance dualism in the philosophy of mind. I am not aware of any responses to this objection. I would like to find some.
(2) God, Time, and Creation
Likewise, there is the familiar objection that causation is a notion that presupposes time. Without time, there is no causation. Time, however, begins with the Big Bang. How, then, could a creative act have occurred prior to the Big Bang, causing it to happen? If this is a troubling question, then it suggests to us that the notion of divine creation is impossible.
There are two possible objections to this. The first is that time does not begin with the Big Bang. Instead, we can imagine some sort of multiverse where causation can still occur. However, many believers do not wish to accept multiverse models. They believe that these models make theistic hypotheses superfluous. I'm not so sure that this is true. Robin Collins, for instance, has done some work on how theism could be compatible with the notion of a multiverse.
Secondly, William Lane Craig suggests the idea of simultaneous causation. To illustrate this, think of when you go to sleep at night, and your head hits the pillow, and the pillow sinks in to accomodate the shape of your head. The action of your head hitting the pillow causes the pillow to sink in, and yet the sinking of the pillow occurs simultaneously with its cause. It's an attempted demonstration of how effects do not necessarily occur after their causes. They can occur at the same time as the causes.
What Craig wants to suggest is that this can work with divine creation, also. God created time at the exact moment that time began. If this suggestion makes sense, then there wouldn't be much of a problem with the notion of divine creation.
Now, while Craig's simultaneous causation idea works perfectly fine within time, it is much less clear that this could work with the notion of time itself. With the pillow example, time remains a precondition for the cause to happen simultaneously with the effect. However, when it comes to the creation of our universe, there is no such precondition. God's creative act of time requires time, so certainly it seems we have to adopt some sort of model like the one that Craig is suggesting. Yet, if time begins simultaneously with the creative act, then it is hard to say how there is a causal connection between the act and the beginning of time, since creative acts do seem to depend upon time as a precondition.
I’ve bundled the first two objections because they admit a common solution.
His first objection posits a temporal precondition, while his second objection posits a spatial precondition.
But whether either or both objections are cogent depends on your theory of causality. As one writer explains, “until quite recently, it was almost universally held that causation must be deterministic, in that any cause is sufficient to bring about its effect,” P. Humphreys, “Causation,” A Companion to The Philosophy of Science, W. H. Newton-Smith, ed (Blackwell 2001), 33.
He goes on to explain that this model of causality has fallen into disfavor on account of two subsequent considerations:
i) Quantum indeterminism and:
One modern alternative consists in sine qua non theories of causation, based on necessity rather than sufficiency. He then cites the version of David Lewis:
“Event A caused event B if and only if (1) A occurred; (2) B occurred; (3) the counterfactual ‘If A had not occurred, then B would not have occurred’ is true (or can be asserted,” ibid. 35.
Cf. D. Lewis, Philosophical Papers (Oxford 1983), 2:159-213.
Actually, it isn’t necessary to use the word “occur” to formulate a sine qua non theory. We could just as well say that A causes B just in case A and B both exist and B would not exist unless A did not existed.
Notice that this minimal definition of causality does not assume either temporal priority or spatial contiguity.
I think this model successfully captures the essential, preanalytic intuition involved in cause/effect relations without positing any additional (spatiotemporal) conditions beyond what is strictly necesary to spell out the relation.
Assuming that this is an adequate definition, it disposes of both objections at one stroke.
Moving to the final objection:
(3) The Problem of Suffering
I won't spend much time talking about the problem of suffering, because there's already a ridiculous amount of literature on the subject. Suffice to say that I have not heard any plausible solutions or counter-arguments to evidential problems of suffering. So, to me, it remains a strong objection to theism that believers have not yet overcome.
We could say quite a lot by way of answer, but let’s outline an answer:
1) What would count as a “plausible” solution or counterargument?
i) Suppose there is a true answer to the problem of evil, but it’s not the answer we were expecting, or an answer we especially like.
In reading the secular literature on the problem of evil, these two issues are not distinguished.
Normally, the atheist or agnostic will simply assume that any true answer must be to his liking.
But it should be obvious that a true answer and a likable answer are two very different things.
Indeed, evil is, itself, a truth of life which we don’t like very much.
ii) Apropos i), there’s a certain paradox in an unbeliever asking for a “plausible” solution.
For, in the nature of the case, any theodicy will invoke a theological value-system. By definition, a theodicy is a theological exercise. As such, it presupposes a theological frame of reference.
So, at one level, no theodicy will be plausible to an unbeliever as long as secularism supplies his standard of comparison. But, of course, that would beg the question.
So, at the very least, the atheist or agnostic, if he’s sincerely posing a question to the Christian regarding the problem of evil, must exercise a degree of sympathetic detachment.
2) Apropos (1), a theological value-system will take God as the most valuable object, as well as the source and standard of mundane values.
God will be the most valuable object in two respects:
i) At a metaphysical or absolute level: of what he is, in and of himself.
His intrinsic value.
ii) At an epistemic or relative level: of what he is to another or others.
His extrinsic value.
How he’s valued by others. Or how he ought to be valued by others.
According to (ii), knowing God is the highest good because, according to (i), God is the highest good.
3) Apropos (2), we need to distinguish between first-order goods and second-order goods. Second-order goods supervene on first-order goods.
As such, first-order goods are a necessary condition of second-order goods.
They are not at absolute necessity. It is not necessary that there be second-order goods. For that matter, it is not necessary that there be first-order goods.
But assuming the existence or value of second-order goods, then their corresponding first-order goods are a necessary precondition of the latter.
4) Apropos (3), we also need to distinguish between incompossible and/or incommensurable goods. Between a greater good for a lesser number, and a lesser good for a greater number.
5) Apropos (4), if knowing God is the highest good, and if a fuller knowledge of God is unobtainable apart from the internal relation between first-order goods and second-order goods, then second-order goods are justified by a higher end (the value of second-order goods), of which first-order goods are the prerequisite.
6) Apropos (5), a fuller knowledge of God includes a knowledge of his justice and mercy, as well as his wisdom in the way whereby his justice and mercy are revealed.
7) Apropos (6), although an abstract knowledge of divine justice and mercy is obtainable apart from concrete expressions of divine justice and mercy, yet an existential knowledge of his justice and mercy is not obtainable apart from concrete expressions of justice and mercy.
8) But an existential knowledge of the good is superior to an abstract knowledge of the good. Superior because such a personalized knowledge is of more value to the individual recipient or beneficiary.
9) Apropos (1-9), God foreordained the Fall as a means of manifesting his justice and mercy to the elect.
10) Such a solution to the problem of evil is the implicit theodicy of Scripture in such passages as Jn 9-12 and Rom 9-11.