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Thursday, December 09, 2004

Logic and God

The classical argument against the existence of God is purportedly an argument of logic. According to this argument, there is an inconsistency with the conjunction of the three propositions:
(1) God is all-loving
(2) God is all-powerful
(3) There is evil in the world

The classical formulations of the argument can be traced to early writers such as Epicurus, in his famous (or infamous) reductio ad absurdum-type questions?:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?

In modern times, British empiricist, David Hume, among others, took on the challenge and concluded that the three propositions above cannot be reconciled, leading to the supposedly obvious conclusion that God does not exist. Many contemporary philosophers quote Hume in support of their arguments that we just cannot entertain the existence of God in light of the presence of pain, suffering and evil in the world. (Ironically, many of those who quote Hume about this, almost always reject everything else he had to say). Most contemporary atheistic thinkers such as J.L. Mackie, and contemporary philosophers such as Michael Tooley and Quentin Smith agree that the presence of evil in the amounts and distribution that it does in the world make it untenable for a person to accept that there can be a such a Being as a good, all-loving, and all-powerful God.

Why? This is usually because in Western philosophy, since the time of Aristotle, we hold on to the orthordoxy of the law of non-contradiction. It is simply a contradiction to suppose that there can exist a God who claims (or has) the attribute of "all-loving" and "all-powerful" yet be either unable or unwilling to remove evil.

Many contemporary theistic thinkers have now shown that this is not necessarily the case. Just because there is evil in the world, it doesn't follow that God is unwilling or that He is unable to remove evil. Many different forms of the arguments have been put forward to explain how there could be such a state of affairs. God, for instance, could be allowing evil in order to develop His creatures. John Hick is a key proponent of this argument, also known as the Soul-Making argument.

Other philosophers, notably, Alvin Plantinga, argue that we may not know the ultimate reason why there is evil in the world, but just because we don't know doesn't mean there isn't one. We need to accept that there could possibly be a reason for evil, even if we cannot grasp nor know it. Many philosophers think this type of argument (that the justifications or reasons for the existence of evil is beyond our epistemic limits) is a cop-out.

However, this argument is rather strong. For we do the same thing in almost all other facets of critical thinking or philosophy. Plantinga, in fact, argues quite convincingly that the belief that there are minds other than our own is accepted even though we do not have a convincing argument for it. We suppose that people other than ourselves have analogous experiences to ourselves when we say, "We feel pain" or "We think such and such" even though we have no direct evidence that they have such feelings or such thoughts.

Many philosophers think that philosophy of religion ought not be done because we just do not have evidence for what we are talking about when we talk about God, souls, spirits, heaven, hell, sin and grace. God-talk, presumably is empty-talk. This is because these philosophers cannot go past the classical logical argument against the existence of God.

Yet, the same philosophers would happily talk about higher level logic and thrive in talking about dialetheism, paradox and paraconsistent logics. Dialetheism is the logic of true contradictions such that both a statement and its contradictions are true. Paradox is a phenomenon in philosophical argument where one statement appears to entail another, which in turns appear to entail the contradiction of the first. Paraconsistent logic is a system of logic that attempts to formalize the phenomena of inconsistency, vagueness and contradictions and has important applications in cognitive science and artificial intelligence.

What logicians and especially higher level logicians do in accepting the reality of these apparently incompatible systems of thought, contradictions and inconsistencies in logic is very instructive in theology.

Logicians find that classical, truth-functional logics does not really work when applied to "real life" especially when exposed to the research on intelligence, human or artificial. Instead of de-bunking truth functional logics, logicians have created these specialized fields of study and have accepted the reality of "true contradictions" (dialetheisms), where both A and not-A are true, and have developed paraconsistent systems and various theories of paradoxes to deal with the apparent illogical reality of the universe that we live in.

In doing so, the same logicians need to accept that their God and Creator is a God who is over and above classical, truth-functional, two- or even three- dimensional logic. Just because they stumble over their seemingly illogical trilogy of theistic pronouncements, doesn't mean that God doesn't exist. It just means that when confronted with the Commander of the Lord's army, and querying Him, "Are you for us or for our enemies?" He answers paradoxically, "Neither!"

What we need to do, both professing atheists and confessing theists, is to be like Joshua and fall on our faces to worship Him, who is the God over our Logic, Contradictions, Paraconsistent Systems, Diatheisms, and Paradoxes.

We need to cry out, "Lord, I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief!"

Of course, our atheistic philosopher friends will try to accuse us of having abandoned philosophy for fideism, or theology, at best, and mythology or fairy-tales, at worst. To which I would reply, "Oh, really? How so? And how much of philosophy doesn't fall guilty of the same charge? Why single out philosophical theology alone?"

Updated: 2-11-05