My last post on
Virtuous Planet IgnitumToday--My Second Best Reason to Believe in God--has generated a bit of criticism. I somewhat expected that, though a lot of it misses the mark entirely, giving me the impression that quite a few people misunderstood the post. I generally appreciate constructive criticism, and can even sometimes tolerate destructive criticism. However, I would prefer that people who criticize do so while understanding my meaning. Based on the emails, facebook comments, and comments on the post itself, nobody save possibly Mr Nathanael Blake actually did understand my post, and even his comment makes me suspect otherwise. So, here are some comments, explanations, and hopefully clarifications.
The best reason to believe in something is because it is true–which I stated in my post. Arguments which seek to demonstrate or prove that God exists are thus arguments about the truth of God’s existence. There is more than one such argument, whatever may be those arguments’ merits or demerits. These would all be classed under “my best reason to believe in God.” The next best reason to believe something is because it is good. This is more a reason to desire that a thing be true, and (in the absence of evidence either way) to order your life in the hope that it might be true. For what it’s worth, the third best reason to believe something is because it is beautiful. Note well that the second best reason is subordinate to the best, and the third best to the second best. This means that if God does not exist and we know that God does not exist without a shadow of doubt (a thing which even some atheists do not claim), then the fact that God is good does not make Him exist. I never claimed that it did, contra some commentators
Aside from citing Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, Mr Nathanael Blake states that "Combining Anselm (who begs the question) with a definition of hell simply produces a horde of question-begging street urchins." Of course, my discussion doesn't rest on whether or not Saint Anselm is right. It rests on four propositions: that happiness comes from enjoying the good in proportion to the greatness of the good (Aristotle); that sorrow and wretchedness come from the converse of that, that is, from losing or failing to obtain that which is good (Augustine); that God Is the greatest good (definition employed by Saint Anselm); and that hell is that where the greatest possible sorrow exists (pick your source). If these four things are true, then it necessarily follows that we are in Hell right now (though we may not yet know it).
--4--For more discussion concerning Saint Anselm's Ontological Argument, I would recommend Professor Edward Feser's post, fittingly titled Anselm's Ontological Argument. He also has a post concerning Professor Alvin Plantinga's version. Now, I know that this argument isn't air-tight. For crying out loud, even Saint Thomas Aquinas rejected it! I pass this along, for two reasons. The first is that Dr Feser points out just where the actual question-begging occur. Here is his conclusion:
"The lesson is not that Anselm’s argument is unsound so much as that it presupposes knowledge (i.e. of God’s essence) that we cannot have. Moreover, the idea that reason points us to the existence of that than which there can be nothing greater is something Aquinas himself endorses as long as it is developed in an a posteriori fashion, as it is in Aquinas’s Fourth Way."The second is that he also has a good comment about the three ways in which people approach this argument.
--5--This point is not especially relevant to the argument either way. The differences between Hell as "this life without God" (let's call this "Earth-Hell") and as the next life without God (let's call this "Gehenna-Hell") are threefold. First, in Earth-Hell we cannot have absolute certainty. Even some atheists admit this, as when Professor Dawkins et al. chose as their bus ad campaign "There is probably no God" (my emphasis). In Gehenna-Hell, we will have absolute certainty. Second, Earth-Hell is temporary; Gehenna-Hell is not. Third, we may pursue other good in Earth-Hell, but there is no good (or goods) in Gehenna-Hell. Fourth might be the existence of hellfire in Gehenna-Hell, though there are other forms of suffering in Earth-Hell, too.
--6--This brings me to Pascal's Wager. The Wager is, after all, not a proof that God exists, nor is it presented as one, either by me or by Blaise Pascal himself. Rather, it is a sort of bet which begins with the assumption that we don't know enough either way to conclude that God does or does not exist. The best reason (truth) comes up a coin-toss, not in that the truth itself is a coin toss but rather in that our knowledge of it is one. We lack certainty, and thus assume that God could exist or He couldn't. Yet we still have to decide one way or another, and we still have to live one way or another. There are four possibilities, based on whether God exists or not and whether we pick correctly or not. If God does exist, then we go to either Heaven (we picked correctly) or Gehenna-Hell (we picked incorrectly); if God does not exist, then picking either way does not much matter in the long run. My article does not exactly follow Pascal's wager, though someone told me that it was akin to upping the ante on this cosmic bet, though this was not exactly my intention. Rather, we should desire that God exist for the sake of our ultimate and final happiness; but desiring that a thing is so does not make it so. On the other hand, if we don't have absolute epistemological certitude that God does not exist, then we should live according to the desire that He does. This is Pascal's point, I think.
--7--The common objection to Pascal's Wager as an argument qua wager is that it seems to rely on a particular conception of God, namely, that it bets on the Christian God as opposed to the pagan gods, for example. The counterargument of the atheists is, in other words, that since some other gods may exist, therefore we should live as if no God or gods exist. Probably the right question to ask is whether or not the Christian God is or could be GCNBT. Since I'm already running fairly long for a set of "quick" takes, I'll let Mr John Zmirak field the question; or, since he is my go-to blogging philosopher, I'll refer the interested reader to Dr Edward Feser's post addressing the "one god further" objection (and his follow-up post); his posts about God, Man, and Classical Theism is also pertinent.
Seven Quick Takes Friday is hosted by Mrs Jennifer Fulwiler at her Conversion Diary blog.